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DO WHAT YOU WILL 



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r. Fitat and .,By H. G. Weli,s. 

2. Edncation. By HuKsaRx Spkncer. 

3. The jaiddle of the XJaiTerse. By Ernst Haecksl. 

Htimanity’s Gain, from TTnbeliet By Charles Bradlattoil 

5. On Liberty. By John Stuart Mill. 

5. A Short History of the World. By H. G. Wells. 

7. Autobiography of CJharles Darwin. 

S. The Ori^n of Species. By Charles Darwin, (fitb < opynght f'tlltion.) 

). Twelve Years in a Monastery. By Jospek MlCaok. 

). History of Modem Philosophy. By A. W. Benn. 

r. Gibbon on Christianity, Being Chapters XV and XVI of I-Mward GiblMm’H 
Dechne and hall 0/ the Reman Empire, 

5. The Descent of Man. Pt. 1 and concluding Chapter Pt. III. By Charles Dauw in, 
5. History of Civilisation in England, By H. T. Buckle. Vol. L 
|. & 15. Anthropology. By Sir Edward B. Tylor, 'I’wo vols. 

>. Iphigenia. Two plays by Euripides. EnKh‘'h vcrsbii by C. B, Bonner, M A, 
s Lectures and Essays. By Thomas Henry Huxley. 

!. The Evolution of the Idea of God. By Grant Allrn. 

I. An Agnostic’s Apology. Sir Leslie Stephen, K.C.B, 
t. The Churches and Modem Thought. By Vivian Phkhps. 

Penguin Island. By Anatole France. 

The Pathetic Fallacy. By Llewelyn Powys. 

. Historical Trials (a Selection). By Sir John Macdonki l, 

.. A Short History of Christianity. By John M. KoiH'Rtsok. 

. The Martyrdom of Man. By Winwood Reaoe. 

Head Hunters ; Black, White, and Brown. By A. C. Hadooh. 

. The Evidence for the SupemaiuraL By Ivor ll. l*uf kptt. 

. The Ci^ of Dreadful Night, and Other Poems. By JAM^}♦ Thomson f ‘ B. V.’*). 

. In the Beginning. By Prop. Sir G. Elliot Smith, F.R.S. 

. Adonis ; A Study in the History of Oriental Religion. By Sir James G. I'kAU w. 

. Our New ReligioiL By the Rt. Hon. H. A. L. I•ISHPR. 

. On Compromise. By John Viscount Morlev, O.M., P.C. 

. History of the Taxes on Knowledge, By Collet Doiwon Collet, 

. The Existence of God. By Joseph McCabe. 

. The Story of the BiHe, Bjy Macleod Yfarsley, F.R.C.S, 

. Sav^e Survivals. By J. Howard Moork. 

. The Revolt of the Angels, By Anatole France. 

The Outcast. By Winwood keaDE. 

. Penalties Upon Opinion. By Hypatia Bradlauoii Bonner. 

. Oath, Curse, and Blessing. By £. Crawley. 

. Fireside Science. By Sir E. Ray Lankester, F.R.S. Prcparctl by Suropon 
Rear-Admiral Beadnkll. 


42. History of Anthropcdt^, By A. C Haddon. 

43. The World’s Earliest Laws. Chilpeeio BItwards. 

44. Fact and Faith. By Prop. J. B. S. Hsifflym 
45- Men of the Dawn, By Dorothy DAvisoif, 

46. The Mind in the Making. By J»mes HAfivKy Roeiwsom- 

47. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. By Charlis Darwin. 

Revised and Abridged by Suro. Rear-Adml. Bkadnell, 

48. Fsydiology for Everyman (and Woman). By A. E. Mander. 

49. The Religion of the Open Mind. By A, Cowans Whyte, 

50. Letters on Beascming. By John M. Robertson. 

51. The Social Record of CBhrirtianity. By Joseph McCabe. 

52. Five Stages of Gre^ Religion. By Prop. Gilbert Murray. 

53. The Life of Jesus. By Ernest Renan. 

54. Selected Works of Voltaire. Translated by Joseph McCabe. 

55- What Are We to Do '^th Oor Lives ? By H. G. Wells. 

57. Oearer Thinking : Logic for Everyman. By A, E. Mamder. 

58. Hij^ory of Ancient Philosophy. By A. W. Bekm. 

59. Yto Bo^ : How it is Mt and How it Works, By D*. D. Stark Murray. 

60. What is Man ? By Mark Twain. 

61. Ito and His Universe. By John Lakcdow-Davies. 

< 52 . First Principles. By Herbert Spencer. (Double VoL» »i.) 



The Thinker’s Library, No. 56 


DO WHAT YOU WILL 

ESSATS 

BY 

ALDOUS HUXLEY 


Do what you xoill^ this worlds s a fiction 
And is made up of contradiction, 

WIZ,LJtAM BLAKE 


LONDON: 

WATTS & CO., 

5 & 6 JOHNSON’S COURT, FLEET STREET, E.C.4 



f>'irsi issued in the Thinker*s Lthraev, t*>3*J* 
Second imprecision April 


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CONTENTS 


PACK 

One and Many i 

Sii^NCE IS Golden : 1929 .... 41 

Spinoza's Worm 49 

Swift 73 

Paradise 85 

Wordsworth in the Tropics . . .90 

Fashions in Love 104 

Francis and Grigory 115 

Baudelaire 137 

Holy Face 162 

Revolutions 170 

Pascal 181 




ONE AND MANY 


§ I. Introduction 

There are many kinds of Gods. Therefore there 
are many kinds of men. For men make Gods in 
their own likeness. To talk about religion except 
in terms of human psychology is an irrelevance. 
' Aphrodite, you say, came with my son to Menelaus' 
house.” It is Hecuba who speaks, in Euripides's 
Trojan Women, to the disastrous Helen. ‘ How 
laughable 1 . . . Wlien you saw him it was your own 
thought that became Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the 
name for every human folly.” And similarly Jehovah, 
Allah, the Trinity, Jesus, Buddha are names for a 
great variety of human virtues, human mystical 
experiences, human aesthetic emotions, human 
remorses, human compensatory fancies, human 
terrors, human cruelties. If all men were alike, 
all the world would worship the same God. Aphro- 
dite, however, bears little resemblance to Calvin's 
Jehovah, Siva is singularly unlike the Something 
not ourselves that makes for the righteousness 
of cultured modernists. Quot homines, tot dei. 

Even the same man is not consistently the wor- 
shipper of one God. Officially an agnostic, I feel 
the presence of devils in a tropical forest. Con- 
fronted, when the weather is fine and I am in 
propitious emotional circumstances, with certain 
landscapes,* certain works of art, certain human 
beings, I Mow, for the time being, that God's in his 
heaven and aU's right with the world. On other 

X 



2 


ONE AND MANY 


occasions, skies and destiny being inclement, I am 
no less immediately certain of the malignant imper- 
sonality of an uncaring universe- Every human 
being has had similar experiences. This being so, the 
sensible thing to do would be to accept the facts and 
frame a metaphysic to fit them. But with that 
talent for doing the wrong thing, that genius for 
perversity, so characteristically human, men hav'e 
preferred, especially in recent times, to take another 
course. They have either denied the existence of 
these psychological facts; or if they iiave admitted 
them, have done so only to condemn as evil all such 
experiences as cannot be reconciled in a logical system 
with whatever particular class of experiences they have 
chosen, arbitrarily, to regard as * true * and morally 
valuable. Every man tries to pretend that he is 
consistently one kind of person, and docs ins best 
consistently to worship one kind of God. And this 
despite the fact that he experiences <!ivcrsity and 
actually feels himself in contact with a variety of 
divinities (or at any rate with extremely dissimilar 
aspects of the same Unknown God who may be 
presumed to lie behind them all). 

§2. The Question of Truth 

The only facts of which we have direct know- 
ledge are psychological facts. The Nature of Things 
presents us with them. There is no getting round 
them, or behind them, or outside of them. They are 
there, given. 

One fact cannot be more of a fact than another. 
Our psychological experiences arc all equally facts. 
There is nothing to choose between them. No 
psychological experience is ' truer/ so far as we are 
concerned, than any other. For even if one sliould 



ONE AND MANY 


3 


correspond more closely to things in themselves as 
perceived by some hypothetical non-human being, 
it would be impossible for us to discover which it was. 
' There never has been and never will be a man who 
has certain knowledge about the Gods and about ail 
the things I speak of. For even if he should happen to 
speak the whole truth, yet he himself docs not know 
it; but all may have their fancy.' So wrote Xeno- 
phanes some two thousand hve hundred years ago. 
In spite of which, men still continue to promote their 
fancies to the rank of universal and absolute Truths, 
still imagine that they know something about the 
thing in itself. But the thing in itself is unknowable 
and * all may have their fancy ' about it. Science is 
no ' truer ' than common-sense or lunacy, than art or 
religion. It permits us to organize our experience 
profitably ; but tells us nothing about the real nature 
of the world to which our experiences are supposed 
to refer. From the internal reality, by which I mean 
the totality of psychological experiences, it actually 
separates us. Art, for example, deals with many 
more aspects of this internal reality than does science, 
which confines itself deliberately and by convention 
to the study of one very limited class of experiences — 
the experiences of sense. To collect records of sense 
experiences (particularly of those which lend them- 
selves to description in terms of numbers), to generalize 
them, to draw inferences from them, to construct 
from them a logically harmonious scheme of descrip- 
tion and explanation — this is the business of science. 
At the moment, it Is worth remarking, there is no 
scheme that harmoniously reconciles all the facts even 
in the limited sphere of scientific investigation. What 
is sense in the sub-atomic universe is pure nonsense 
in the macroscopical world. In other words, logic 
compels us to draw one set of inferences from certain 



4 


ONE AND MANY 


sense experiences and another irreconcilable set of 
inferences from certain other sense experiences. 

Less loudly, indeed, than in the past and less 
insistently, Science and Logic still claim, througii 
the mouths of their professional spokesmen, to be 
able to arrive at the Truth, The claim is one which 
it is hard to justify. 

Take logic. Logic, it is true, enables us to trans- 
cend immediate experience, to infer from the known 
existence of A and B the hitherto unsuspected 
existence of C. In practice, however, we always try 
to verify experimentally the theoretical results 
obtained by means of logical argument. Not so 
much because we mistrust the logical process as 
because we mistrust the premisses from which the 
process must start. For if our premisses do not 
correspond with reality, the conclusicms, though 
obtained by logically faultless deduction, will also 
fail to correspond with reality. It is always difficult 
to be sure that our premisses do correspond with 
reality. Hence the need to test results experi- 
mentally. The external world has proved to be 
surprisingly obedient to logic. When we conclude 
from well-chosen premisses that something must l>e 
so, it has turned out in practice to be so, ' really/ Will 
the world always show such deference to our law.s of 
thought? The physicists are at present involved In 
such difficulties that some pessimists have suggested 
that the universe is fundamentally iirational. One 
can only shrug one's shoulders and hope for the best. 
Either, then, the world is irrational, and logically 
necessary conclusions from real premisses do not 
always and necessarily correspond with reality. Or 
else the world is rational, and conclusions drawn from 
real premisses must themselves be real. But the 
difficulty in this latter case is to be sure that the 



ONE AND MANY 


5 


premisses do completely correspond witli reality — 
whatever reality may be (which nobody knows) — 
or even with what we have chosen, for the particular 
purposes of the moment, to regard as reality. It 
is so great, that we try wherever possible to check 
theoretical results by experiment. And in those 
very numerous cases where they cannot be checked ? 
Again, one can only shrug one's shoulders and hope 
for the best. The theologians have wisely insisted 
that faith shall supplement reason. 

So much for logic. What, now, of the claims 
of the natural sciences, based on observation ? 
Consider, in this connection, a chair. What sort of 
chair, you ask, how old and made by whom? For 
the sake of simplicity, and to help the poor scientist, 
I will ignore these questions, even though they refer 
to what are quite obviously the most important 
aspects of the chair. An oak chair made by machinery 
for any one of a million Babbitts is radically different 
from an oak chair made by a mediaeval craftsman for 
a prince of the Church. The two chairs are different 
in the quality of what we are forced, for lack of better 
expressions, to call their souls, their characters, their 
forms of life. For the sake of simplicity, however, 1 
will ignore all the aspects of the chair that every 
human being spontaneously feels to be the most 
significant, and concentrate exclusively on its ponder- 
able and measurable aspects — on those aspects, in a 
word, with which science has elected to deal. 

To the gross senses the chair seems solid and 
substantial. But the gross sens^ can be refined 
by means of instruments. Closer observations are 
made, as the result of which we are forced to conclude 
that the chair is ' really a swarm of electric charges 
whizzing about in empty space. If it were in our 
power to make observations with other organs than 



6 


ONE AND MANY 


those with which nature has endow^ed tis, the same 
logic would certainly compel us to believe that the 
chair was " really * something quite unlike both the 
substantial object made by joiners, and sold on the 
instalment system, and the sw''arm of electric charges. 
All that we are finally justified in affirming is that 
the psychological experience called ‘ substantial 
chair ' is the one we have to rely on as ' true ' in 
one set of circumstances, while Ifie experience, 
' electric-charge chair,' must be regarded as ' true ' 
in other circumstances and for other purposes, 11 le 
substantial-chair experience is felt to be intrinsically 
more satisfactory, because we are more arcust<unec! to 
it. Our normal everyday life is passed in the midst , 
not of whizzing electric charges, but of sul>siaiuiai 
objects. Both types of chair are abstractions. Jhit 
while the substantial chair is an abstraction <*asily 
made from the memories of innumoralile s(*nsa"- 
tions of sight and touch, the electric-charge t'hair is a 
difficult and far-fetched abstraction frtan rc*rtain 
visual sensations so excessively rare (t}u*y <'an only 
come to us in the course of elaborate experiments) 
that not one man in a million has ever been in the 
position to make it for himself. The overwhelming 
majority of us accept the electric-cliargc diair on 
authority, as good Catholics accept transiibstantia- 
tion. We have faith and we believe. Quite without 
genuine conviction. What we are genuinely rem- 
vinced of is the solid substantiality of chairs. Which 
is ' really ’ illusory. 

What is the position, in the hierarchy of truths, 
of the individual sensations from whkli we abstract 
our substantial objects, collections of electric charges, 
or whatever else we care to fabricate from tlicisc 
elementary experiences? In practice we are con- 
tinually, and for the most part automatically, 



ONE AND MANY 


7 


correcting our immediate sensations. This cock- 
eyed two-dimensional figure, of which some parts are 
coloured in light tones and some in dark, and 
which changes its shape and the disposition of its 
colours as we walk past it, is ‘ really ' a cubical box 
seen in perspective. This collection of irregular 
surfaces which I touch with my finger-ti])s is ' really ' 
a solid stone. And so on. The capacity to make 
such corrections is characteristically human. Ani- 
mals, even the higher animals, seem to * believe all 
they see.' What they see (which is more or less what 
we see in its primitive uncorrect cd state) — is it falser, 
in any absolute sense of the word, than that which w'e 
abstract from our immediate sensations? Is the 
appearance, to use the phraseology of Plato, intrinsic- 
ally and absolutely less true than the Idea? Plato 
himself would have answered in the affirmative. 
Appearances are illusory; Ideas (our abstractions 
from remembered appearances) are true. But con- 
sidering the matter with a little attention, wc perceive 
that there is no more reason why an abstraction made 
after the fact should be nearer to the thing in itself 
than an immediate sensation. It is only for certain 
strictly human purpo.ses that the Idea can be con- 
sidered truer than the appearance. Abstracted from 
a mass of the most diverse sensations, the Idea is a 
sort of Lowest C<jmmon Measure of appearances. For 
the purposes of Man the rcmeml)ering and fore- 
seeing animal, of Man the exerciser of persistent 
and conscious action on the external world, the 
Idea or abstraction is truer than the immediate 
sensation. It is because we are predominantly 
purposeful beings that we are perpetually correcting 
our immediate sensations. But men are free not 
to be utiiitarianly purposeful. They can sometimes 
be artists, for example. In which case they may like 



8 


ONE AND MANY 


to accept the immediate sensation imrorrecfed, 
because it happens to be beautifui. They will like 
the form of the cock-eyed two-dimensional figure and 
refuse to let themselves be distracted by the thought 
that it is ' really ' a box. For such people the 
immediate sensation, or ' appearance/ will be tnier 
than the abstraction, or ' Idea.^ In any case, the 
criterion of truth and falsehood must always remain 
internal, psychological. To talk about truth as 
a relationship between human notions and things in 
themselves is an absurdity, 

§ 3. Human Nature and Divine Nature 

Truth is internal. One psychological fact is 
as good as another. Having established these 
principles, we can now begin to talk, with some 
hope of talking sensibly, about religion. 

‘I believe in one God,* affirms the churchgoer; 
and almost any right-thinking man would be ready, 
if you asked him what he believed in, to say tlie same. 
In one God. But why not in sixty-four God.s, or two 
hundred and seventeen God^ Because monothei.sm 
is fashionable in twentieth-century Europe. If it 
were not, all right-thinking people would o!>vimisly 
be affirming their belief in sixty-four or two hundred 
and seventeen, or whatever other number of Ciods 
happened to be prescribed by the competent 
authorities. One right-thinking man thinks like 
all other right-thinking men of his time — that is 
to say, in most cases, like some wrong-thinking 
man of another time. Mr, Jones believes in on© 
God, because Mr. Smith believes in one God, and 
incidentally, because a good many centuries ago 
Plato and numerous Jews, including Jesus, beheved 
in one God, 

But why did it ever occur to any one to believe 



ONE AND MANY 


9 


in only one God? And, conversely, why did it 
ever occur to any one to believe in many Gods? 
To both these questions we must return the same 
answer : Because that is how the human mind hap- 
pens to work. For the human mind is both diverse 
and simple, simultaneously many and one. We have an 
immediate perception of our own diversity and of that 
of the outside world. And at the same time we have 
immediate perceptions of our own oneness. Occasion- 
ally also, in certain states which may vaguely be 
described as mystical, we have an immediate percep- 
tion of an external unity, embracing and (paradoxi- 
cally — but we actually experience the paradox) em- 
braced by our own internal unity ,* we feel the whole 
universe as a single individual mysteriously fused 
with ourselves. Moreover, by a process of abstrac- 
tion, of generalisation, of logical reasoning, we can 
discover in the outside world a principle of unity, 
none the less genuine for the fact that we have very 
possibly put it tliere ourselves. The sixpence I fmd 
in my Christmas pudding is still sixpence, even though 
it was I who gave it ^o the cook. If the wmld 
presents itself to me as a unity as well as a diversity, 
that is because I myself am one as well as many. 
Perceiving, I create my world, perhaps out of notliing 
but the stuff of my own mind, perhaps out of things in 
themselves — who knows? Fatally and necessarily, 
however, I create it in my own image- If I were 
wholly diverse — a mere succession in time of un- 
connected states — I should obviously inhabit a 
wildly diverse universe, in which instant succeeded 
discrete instant, event followed causeless and resultless 
event, incoherently. If, on the contrary, I were a 
simple perfected unity, my world would be as simply 
perfect as the universe inhabited by a stone. That is 
to say, it would be non-existent, since I myself would 



lO 


ONE AND MANY 


have no consciousness either of my own or of any other 
existence. For perfection is the same as non- 
existence; and, undivided against itself, uncon- 
trasted with diversity, the One is the equivalent of tiie 
Nothing. 

We are aware of existing; therefore we are not 
merely one. We are conscious of remaining our- 
selves through inward and outward cliange ; therefore 
we are not merely diverse. Given these peculiarities 
of human nature, it is easy to infer the peculiarities of 
divine nature. Men are both simple and diverse; 
therefore there are many Gods and therefore there is 
only one God. 

History confirms a theoretical conclusion. In 
certain tracts of space and time, there is no God 
but God; in others, the local pantheons arc over- 
crowded like so many slum tenements. In yet 
others, men have made a compromise in their myth- 
ology between unity and diversity. Olympus i.s no 
more a democracy, but a monarchy ruhf<i by an 
emperor who chooses to delegate certain powcTs to 
his officials. Or else the celestial drama is not acted 
by a stock company of divinities — it is a quick-change 
turn, where ail the parts are playe<i by a single 
performer. We see Thor and Wotan, Athena and 
Aphrodite, Krishna and Siva. They act convincingly, 
in character. But they are not really there at all 
An anonymous demiurge with an ex traorcl inary talent 
for male, female, and hermaphroditic impersonation 
simultaneously plays aH their parts. 

§ 4. Progress in Mythology 

It is generally assumed that belief in one God 
succeeds belief in many Gods, and that this suc- 
cession is in the nature of a spiritual progress. But 
monotheism is sometimes found, if we may believe the 



ONE AND MANY 


II 


accounts of travellers, in the most primitive societies, 
Nor are all the members of one society more than 
nominally of one faith. This is true, as Mr. Radin, 
a student of Red Indian habits and customs, has 
pointed out, even of rigidly intolerant primitive com- 
munities. Belief in one or in many Gods is determined 
by the idiosyncrasies of the believer. There are 
born polytheists and born monotheists. There are 
also born neutrals, who passively accept the views 
of the majority or of individuals with stronger 
personalities than their own, and become cither ' right- 
thinking men ' or else the ' misguided dupes ' of 
hercsiarchs, whichever the case may be. Those in 
whom the unifying tendency predominates, whether 
in the form of a mystical gift for feeling the world's 
oneness, or of a talent for generalization and abstrac- 
tion, worship one God. Those who are conscious 
predominantly of their own and tiie world's diversity 
worship many Gods. 

Not only among the Red Indians, but also among 
those who profess and call themselves Christians, 
Atheists, Thcosopliers, Anthroposophers, Occultists, 
Agnostics, and so forth, we can fmd, as well as 
Nature's gentlemen and Nature's cads, her Unitarians 
and her polytheists, her fetish-worshippers and her 
neo-plat onists. Orthodoxies may be strict : but the 
religion of any society is always extremely mixed. 
This is a fact which we must always and steadily bear 
in mind when we talk of contemporary monotheism. 
But even if we do l>ear it in mind, we are forced, I 
think, to admit that tlicre has been a genuine trend 
in recent times towards a Unitarian mythology and 
the worslnp of one God. This is the tendency which 
it has been customary to regard as a spiritual progress. 
On what grounds? Chiefly, so far as one can see, 
because we in the twentieth-century West are 



12 


ONE AND MANY 


officially tlie worshippers of a single divinity. A move- 
ment whose consummation is Us must be progressive. 
Quod erat demonstrandum. 

For those, however, who dislike the present 
dispensation this argument will hardly seem con- 
vincing. In their eyes a movement that concludes in 
Us seems the reverse of progressive. 

Almost all historical discussions, it should he 
noticed, are discussions of personal tastes. Thus, 
both Flinders Petrie and Spengler believe in the 
cyclic recurrence of history. But their cycles are 
not the same, because their standards of civilization 
and barbarism, or in other words their tastes in 
literature, art, religion, and morals, happen to dilfer. 
Most of the arguments for and against the reality of 
progress are similarly oblkiue statements of the 
arguer's personal tastes. Having thus given due 
warning, I can now proceed to consider the cjuestlon : 
Is the displacement of polytheism by monotheism a 
progress ? 


§ 5. Monotheism 

Monotheism, as we know it in the West, was 
invented by the Jews. These unfortunate inhabitants 
of the desert found nothing in the surrounding bare- 
ness to make them suppose that the world was richly 
diverse. It was easy for them to conceive the deity 
as one and disembodied. " L'extrUme simplicity dc 
Fesprit symitique/ says Renan, * sans ytendue, sans 
diversity, sans arts plastiques, sans philosophie, sans 
mythologie, sans vie politique, sans progr^s, n'a pas 
d'autre cause : il n'y a pas de varMty dans le mono- 
thyisme/ Conversely, he might have added, there 
can be no polytheism in minds by nature or by habit 
so sterile, so ungenerous of fruits. Except for a little 
literature, the Jews and Arabs produced nothing 



ONE AND MANY 


^3 


humanly valuable until they left their deserts, came 
into contact with the polytheistic races and absorbed 
their culture. The modem world is still suffering 
from the native incapacity of the Jews to be political. 
The art of making and preserving a City, which we 
call by the Greek name, * politics,' was never an 
indigenous growth among the Hebrews. The City 
of the Greeks and the other civilized nations of anti- 
quity were hateful to them. Their ideas were essenti- 
ally anti-political. The politics of Judaea, when there 
were any, were borrowed from the Egyptians and 
Babylonians and, later, from the Greeks. These 
borrowings were regarded with violent disapproval 
by the champions of Hebrew orthodoxy, who objected 
to organized civilization on two grounds. Some, like 
Amos, hated it just because it was civilization and not 
nomadic barbarism. It was in the desert that God 
had made his covenant with the Chosen Race, and in 
the desert there was nothing else to think about 
but God. So, Back to the Desert 1 was their war-cry. 
Others, the Ebionites, objected to civilization 
because it was hierarchical, because it made for social 
inequality. They gave prophetically indignant utter- 
ance to the envious hatred of the poor in cash and in 
spirit against the rich and talented and cultured. A 
pious and imiversal mediocrity was their ideal. 

The spiritual descendants of these two classes 
of prophets are still with us. Wliat Amos said 
so many centuries ago, Gandhi and the Tolstoyans 
are saying to-day. The Communists are the modem 
Ebionites, And this resemblance between the old 
and the new is not a chance resemblance. But for 
the Bilde, Tolstoy would never have come to think 
as he did ; and Lenin was the disciple of that old- 
fashioned Hebrew prophet in scientific fancy dress, 
Karl Marx^ Tlie Hellenic City has found in these Jew- 



14 


ONE AND MANY 


inspired leaders and their followers some of its 
bitterest enemies. 

The Jews were also responsible, at any rate in 
part, for an even more pernicious anti-political 
doctrine — the doctrine of the all-importance in 
human life of economic success. That prosperity 
was, or ought to be, the reward of virtue wa.s a funda- 
mental article of the Jewish creed. Why are the Bad 
sometimes Rich ? That, for the Jews, was the prin- 
cipal Riddle of the Universe. There was only one 
God, and he existed primarily to see that the vittiioii.s 
were successful. The Bible-reading Prote.staiits, 
especially Calvin, introduced this idea into Euro|)e. 
The Puritans were the first typically modem Business 
Men^ — the first rich Christians who were not shgldly 
ashamed and frightened of being rich; the first 
shopkeepers to feel themselves the ecpials of gentle- 
men, artists, scholars, priests (and not merely tlunr 
equals, but even their superiors) ; the first mcchnnks 
who ever esteemed their money-getting as a pur.suit 
to be ranked with contemplation and the liberal 
arts. It is in the essentially Protestant America — 
home of the ignoble Benjamin PVanklin — -that this 
Jewish doctrine of the primacy of economic values has 
found the widest acceptance and been most whedc- 
heartedly acted upon. From America it has begun to 
infect the rest of the world. Thanks to the Protestant 
Reformers, the whole of humanity is being Judaked. 
We are all paying for ' Pextrtoe simplicity de Tesprit 
symitique.' 

Having made what is obviously an utterly damning 
statement about the Chosen Race and its religion, 
Renan calmly proceeds to explain that the missiem, 
the historical ' point,' of the Jews was to tend the 
small flame of monotheism and to transmit it, in due 
course and by the agency of the first Christians, to 



ONE AND MANY 


T5 

the Western world. Their mission, in a word, was to 
infect the rest of humanity with a belief which, 
according to Renan himself, prevented them from 
having any art, any philosophy, any political life, any 
breadth or diversity of vision, any progress. We may 
be pardoned for wishing that the Jews had remained, 
not forty, but four thousand years in their repulsive 
wilderness. 

If the effects of pure monotheism are really those 
which Renan attributes to it, then, it is obvious, 
the passage from the worship of many Gods to the 
worship of one cannot possibly be called a progress, 
at any rate in the sphere of practical living. An 
enthusiastic monotheist will retort that progress in 
the art of life is not * true ' progress, and that the only 
progress worth considering is that towards the Truth. 
' MonotlK‘ism,' he would argue, ' may be incom- 
patible with art, philosophy, political life, and all the 
rest. I am ready to grant your wliole case. Never- 
theless, I would rather believe in one God and be a 
barren Semite — a spiritual desert roaming through 
deserts of sand — than be a fertile Greek and believe 
in many Gods. For monotheism is Ime and poly- 
tlieism is false/ But stich a statement, as we have 
seen, is quite meaningless. Monotheism and poly- 
theism are the rationalisations of distinct psycho- 
logical states, both undeniably existent as facts of 
experience, and between which it is quite impossible 
for us, with 11 jc merely human faculties at our disposal, 
to choose. Any particular system of polytlieism 
may fairly safely be regarded as untrue, or at any rate 
highly improbable. It is highly improbable, for 
example, that Thor or Dionysus ever existed in the 
same way as Mount Olympus or the Atlantic Ocean 
existed and continue to exist. Tlieir being is of the 
same kind as the being of Jehovah and the something 



i6 ONE AND IMANY 

not ourselves that made for nmeleenth-rentiiry right- 
eousness, as the being of the unicorn and tlie Economic 
Man and the absolutely equilateral triangle. (Whether 
the two forms of existence are radically and essentially 
different is another question. Both are existences in 
a mind : but one type of existence seems to have a 
closer connection with a hypothetical outside world of 
things in themselves than the other. Are we justified 
in drawing a definite distinction, except for tlie purely 
practical purposes of our daily living, between the 
two classes of existence? It is difficult to say.) 
That Thor or Dionysus ever ‘ really " existed is, 
I repeat, exceedingly improbable — though there is, 
of course, no conceivable method of proving that they 
did not or do not now exist, just as tliere is no 
conceivable method of disproving the existence of 
those disembodied spirits who were once supposed 
to direct the movements of the planets. At any 
moment Aphrodite may suddenly rise from the waves 
at Bournemouth or St. Leonards. May rise; !)ut, 
alas, how much more probably may not 1 There is 
every reason to fear that life in these delicious resorts 
will continue to moulder away undisturlx^d towards 
some final and unattainable state of Absolute Putre- 
faction. But though the * real ' existence of ilie 
deities of any pantheon may be doubted, the existence 
of the internal and external diversity of which they 
are symbolical is undeniable. No less undeniable is 
the existence of some kind of inward and outward 
unity. But that this unity should really be the God of 
pure monotheism is as improbable as that the diversity 
should really be Apollo and Quexalcoatl, Siva and 
Thor. 

For a certain class of highly civilized men and 
women, any passage from the concrete to the abstract, 
from the sensed and the felt to the merely thought 



ONE AND MANY 


T7 

about, is a progress. The man whose activities are 
predominantly intellectual, who lives mainly with and 
for disembodied ideas, is regarded by these people 
(they are, of course, paying a graceful compliment to 
themselves) as a being of a higher type than the man 
who lives to any considerable extent with the in- 
stinctive, intuitive, and passional side of his nature 
in a world of immediate experiences and concrete 
things. (In the sphere of practical living, as we have 
seen, the distinction, perhaps invalid theoretically, 
between the class of psychological facts which we 
call ‘ the concrete ' and that other class which we 
call * the abstract ' is of the highest significance, and 
must therefore be clearly drawn.) To intellectuals 
of the kind I have described, polytheism seems a 
debased form of religion ; its many Gods too faithfully 
symbolize the diversities of the external world and of 
the instinctive and passional side of human nature. 
A single, infinite, disembodied divinity is much more to 
their taste. For a long time, however, this God re- 
mains too grossly personal and, despite his infiniteness, 
anthropomorphic to be wholeheartedly accepted by 
minds that are only perfectly at ease with algebraical 
symbols. The process of slow mangling and gradual 
murder, which these people beautifully call * the 
spiritualization of man's conception of the divine,' 
must be carried to its extreme limit. Long since 
castrated, the deity must now be bled and disem- 
bowelled. Only when the last drop of living blood 
has been squeezed from the eternal arteries does God 
become fit to be worshipped by a high-class intel- 
lectual modernist. For by this time God has degener- 
ated into an algebraical formula, a pure abstraction. 
He is no longer alive, no longer has the least connec- 
tion with life; he has become simply a word 
prmterea nihil, Wlien he said that the Word was in 



ONE AND MANY 


i8 

the beginning, St. John made a slight mistake. " At 
the end ' was what he should have written. By the 
time he has been reduced to a mere verbal abstrac- 
tion, God is at his last gasp. The modernists have all 
but spiritualized him out of existence. From poly- 
theism to monotheism, from monotheism to the 
worship of an abstraction, from the worship of an 
abstraction to the worship of nothing at all — ^stich are 
the several stages in the progressive ' spiritualization 
of man’s conception of the divine.’ And perhaps the 
process may turn out in the end to have been genuinely 
progressive — progressive in a circle or perhaps a spiral. 
For, who knows? the nihilistic atheism into which 
advancing spirituality is so rapidly leading ns nia}» 
prove to be the introduction, by the way of almost 
desperate reaction, to a new and more perfect pol}'- 
theism, itself the symbolical expression of a new and 
affirmative attitude towards those divinely mysterious 
forces of Life against which we now so ungratefully 
blaspheme. But before going further with these 
speculations about the future and the possible, I mtist 
turn aside to say something, in the most general 
terms, about the actual history of that monotheism 
which the Western peoples look over from the Jews, 

§ 6. Trees and Fruits 

If what Renan says about the sterilizing effects 
of pure monotheism be true (as I think it is), h<m arc 
we to explain the fact that the races of Eur(»i>e have 
not sunk, since their conversion, to the level of those 
deplorable Semites, among whom their historian could 
find no art, no science, no philosophy, no politics, 
none of those activities, in a word, which justify 
men in taking a certain pride in their humanity? 
The tree shall be known by its fruits, Christian 
Europe has borne good fruits in plenty* Are these the 



ONE AND MANY 


T9 

fruits of its monotheism? No. The peoples whom 
the Jews infected with their monotheism were by 
long tradition profoundly polytheistic. They lived, 
moreover, in a world that was not a desert, a world 
not barren, hard, and dry, but softly alive with the 
most various richness. They have never, until quite 
recent times, shown any signs of becoming pure mono- 
theists, like their Semitic teachers. Christian ortho- 
doxy itself made a compromise with polytheism. Its 
one God w^as mysteriously several Gods. It encour- 
aged the worship of a subsidiary female deity. Innu- 
merable saints received their tribute of local adoration, 
usurped the place once occupied by the lares and 
penates in the home, and provided with their relics 
an inexhaustible supply of fetishes. (Not quite in- 
exhaustible, however. The demand sometimes out- 
ran the supply; Chaucer's Pardoner was compelled 
to travel with a glass case full of ' pigges bones/) 
In quantity the Catholic could ri\’‘al with any heathen 
pantheon known to history. But not in quality. 
That was bad. For the saints were drearily lacking 
in variety ; they were all monotonously * good.' For 
all their swarming numbers, they represented but 
one aspect of human life — the * spiritual.' The 
Greek and all the other professedly polytheistic 
systems were much completer, much more realistic. 
Their pantlieons contained representatives of every 
vital activity — representatives of the body and the 
instincts as well as of the spirit, of the passionate 
energies as well as of the reason, of the self-regarding 
as well as of tlje altruistic tendencies in human nature. 
True, the Christians did recogniize the existence of 
these other, imspiritual aspects of existence; but 
they handed them over for symbolical embodiment 
to the Devil and his angels. Most of the virtues of 
the pagans— beauty, strength, cunning, and all such 



20 


ONE AND MANY 


wisdom as is not the inspired imbecility of the poor 
in spirit — ^were branded as vices and attributed to 
the Prince of this World. The result of this astonish- 
ing policy was the implanting in the modem soul of 
all that strange and repulsive gamut of peculiarly 
Christian diseases, from diabolism to conviction of 
sin, from the Folly of the Cross to Don-Juanism. Wiat 
had once been a frank worship of the Gods of Life 
degenerated, during the Christian era, into a furtive 
and self-consciously guilty practice of devil-worship, 
Christianity could not destroy the old Adam; it 
merely perverted him and made him disgusting. 

That men with souls so naturaliter non Christianm 
as the Greeks, the Romans, and, later, the other 
peoples of Europe, should ever have accepted Jewish 
monotheism, even in the impure form in which it was 
offered them by Christianity, may seem surprising. 
But, as it happened, circumstances in the first centuries 
of our era were extremely propitious to the spread of 
Semitic dogmas in the West. If Gods are made in the 
image of men, cosmogonies reflect the forms of 
terrestrial states. In an empire ruled absolutt?Iy 
by one man the notion of an universe under the 
control of a single God seemed obvious and reasonable. 
When the world was divided up into small states ruled 
by noble oligarchies, the idea was not reasona!>ie nor 
obvious. The Christian God was a magnified and 
somewhat flattering portrait of Tiberius and Caligula. 

Under the Roman Empire, the Western world 
was unified. The process entailed the destruction, 
or at least the reduction to insigniflcant impotence, 
of all the old nobilities. There was a general levelling 
down of castes. Under its absolute monarch the 
Empire was in some sort a democracy. Class dis^ 
tinctions came to depend more and more exclusively 
on wealth. The Best Men were the richest. Heredia 



ONE AND MANY 


21 


tary aristocracies, heaven knows, are bad enough; 
but plutocracies are worse. Even degenerate aristo- 
cracies preserve a certain decency ; but at no time does 
a plutocracy develop any decency worth preserving j 
its Weltanschauung is uniformly detestable. Pluto- 
crats are believers either in a sordid Franklinesque 
morality (the Puritans, it is significant, were the first 
modern capitalists) ; or in a no less sordid self-in- 
dulgence ; or in both at once. The Gospel of Work 
and the Gospel of the Good Time are equally popular 
in the modern world. A genuine aristocracy would 
find them equally stupid and disgusting. 

Among the old aristocracies, destroyed by the 
Roman Empire, polytheism was the traditional 
religion. The Gods were the images of the ruling 
nobles projected through the magnifying, the beauti- 
fully distorting medium of the imagination on to the 
vault of heaven. 

The cardinal virtues, in these ancient societies, 
were the virtues of a class of masters. The deadly 
sins (but they were neither deadly nor sins, in the 
Christian sense, but only contemptible defects of 
mind and body) were the characteristic failings of 
slaves. With the rise of the Empire, the ruling 
castes slowly withered. Between the monarch and 
the swarming slaves only the semblance of a nobility 
and the sordid reality of a class of money-makers 
now intervened. Freed from the aristocratic tradi- 
tion, which had imposed on them its alien ethic and 
beliefs, the slaves now found themselves m a position 
to express their religious preferences. They chose the 
religion which assured them that they alone were 
virtuous in this life, and would alone be happy in 
the next ; the religion that exalted pity as the first 
of duties and condemned power as the worst of 
crimes; the religion that proclaimed the equality 



ONE AND MANY 


2:3 

of all men, that preached universal love and at the 
same time (for the love was tempered by envy and 
hatred) promised the weak a posthumous vengeance 
on their masters. In a word, they chose Christianity. 
Its monotheism, its universaiism, fitted the imperial 
circumstances. In due course it became the religion 
of the State.^ Shortly, however, after this evvnt, 
the circumstances which had made possible tlie spread 
of the new religion entirely changed. The religion 
of slaves was required to adapt itself to an aristocratic 
society. 

The revival of aristocracy was due to the Bar- 
barians, who broke up the Empire and creatcil a 
class of land-holding magnates to rule over the 
fragments. Even before the destruction of the 
imperial machine we can detect signs that presage the 
coming feudal system. By the end of the fonrtli 
century the great landowners were full-blown barons, 
above the imperial law. The State could do nothing 
against them; it was too weak, because too f>oor, to 
be able to oppress any but the feeble. Tliat the once 
incredibly wealthy Empire should have sunk into such 
poverty may seem at a first sight inexplicably strange. 
But the Romans had squandered unproductively all 
the vast sums they had won by their Eastern con- 
quests. Of capitalism in the modern form they were 
quite ignorant. Rome had no industrie.s, and its 
financiers were merely usurers. The economic collapse 
of Rome began as early as the second century. Money 
became scarcer and scarcer; barter and payment in 

1 All this is perhaps a little too * profound " in the German 
manner. But for Constantine's whim, would Christianity ever 
have become the State religion ? Similarly, would England 
have taken to Prot^tantism if Henry had been less anxious 
to get rid of his wife? Such c|uestions are obviously un- 
answerable. But when generalizations become too * pro* 
found/ they are always worth asking. 



ONE AND MANY 


23 


kind — all the most rudimentary forms of economic 
activity — were gradually reintroduced. One of the 
results of this process was that the plutocracy of the 
Empire's palmy days began to transform itself into 
an aristocracy, for aristocracy flourishes where 
economic conditions are simple. When they become 
more complicated, a plutocracy takes its place. But 
not at once. There is a period when plutocrat and 
aristocrat exist and rule side by side — when the 
aristocrat is enriched by commerce and industry and 
the new plutocrat tries to live in accord with the old 
aristocratic ti*adition. These transitional periods 
have been the most splendid in human history. 
Athens and Florence at the height of their glory 
were each in this transitional state. So was England 
during the sixteenth and, diminishingly, the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries. So was France at 
the same epoch. So was Germany during the 
eighteenth century. But this happy state has never 
lasted for very long. Either some catastrophe puts a 
sudden end to it (as was the case with Athens and 
Florence) ,* or else it develops gradually and naturally 
into something different, something worse. Pluto- 
cracy gains on aristocracy and at last displaces it 
altogether ; a new type of society comes into existence, 
and witli it a new civilization. The world of Pericles 
and Lorenzo the Magnificent becomes the world of 
Hoover and Ford. 

I can observe liow a piece of phosphorus behaves 
when it is dry, and afterwards I can drop it in a pail 
of water and observe how it behaves when it is wet. 
But tiiough I can observe (very incompletely and 
superficially, indeed) what happened as a result of 
Wellington's victory at Waterloo, I cannot alter the 
historical circumstances experimentally and observe 
what would have happened if Napoleon had won the 



ONE AND MANY 


24 

battle. There can be no crucial experiments in 
history, nor, for that matter, any completely acenrate 
observation. History is not a science. 

What would have happened during the Dark 
Ages and the succeeding centuries, if the religion 
of Europe had not been monotheistic? We can- 
not discover ; we find it hard even to imagine. Con- 
ceivably, of course, the history of those times would 
have been the same as that which is actually recorded 
in the text-books. It seems, however, unlikely : 
and I think we are justified in believing that mono- 
theism played an important and, on the whole, 
beneficent part during those times, first of obscure 
tumult and then of piecemeal order. The mono- 
theistic idea, with which were inextricably twined 
the catholic and imperial ideas, acted as a brake on 
those disruptive and centrifugal forces which might, 
but for it, have kept all Europe in a state of frag- 
mentary chaos. Christianity, the preacher of mono- 
theism, was valuable. But no less valuable, it should 
be remembered, was Christianity, the preserver of the 
old polytheistic culture. From the Jews Catholicism 
borrowed one God. From the Greeks and Romans 
it took all the rich diversity of art and thought which 
the Jews had sacrificed to their one God. Wluit it 
had taken it passed on. For both its gifts, divided 
and barbarous Europe owed it an enormous debt of 
gratitude. 

The circumstances of the Dark and Middle Ages 
rendered Christian monotheism, on the whole, a 
blessing and prevented it from doing harm. In a 
world broken up into isolated and politically inde- 
pendent fragments men could not take the idea of 
cosmic unity with dangerous seriousness. Moreover, 
the morality current in an aristocratic and warlike 
society was necessarily incompatible with Christian 



ONE AND MANY 


25 


morality and served as a wholesome antidote to it. 
Nor must it be forgotten that religion was, for the 
great majority, an affair predominantly of formalities 
and fetish-worship. If you went through the for- 
malities and worshipped the fetishes, it did not 
much matter what you did in the intervals. Men 
made little attempt to be consistently ‘ spiritual.' 
The few who took Christian teaching seriously could 
go into the monasteries and be spiritual in private. 
As for the rest, one has only to read the mediaeval 
story-tellers to see what their way of life was like. 
In the golden ages of faith, mo.st Christians lived, 
most of the time, in a manner almost as charmingly 
pagan as that of the ancient Cretans or Etruscans. 
The Age of Faith was golden (by comparison with 
that of militant Protestantism and the Counter- 
Reformation) because the faithful never dreamed of 
being consi.stentiy Christian. 

The Renaissance was a revival of the polytheistic 
spirit. The parallel Reformation was a revival of 
pure Scmiti.sm. The Reformers read their Old 
Testaments and, trying to imitate the Jews, became 
those detestable Puritans to whom wc owe, not merely 
GtiMdjism and Podsnappery, but also (as Weber 
and Tawney have shown) all that was and still is 
vilest, cruellest, most anti-human in the modern 
capitalist system. To their one Jewish God good 
Calvinists and Independents sacrificed almost every- 
thing that could make a man prouder of being a man 
than of being a termite or a perfectly efficient 
automaton. 

The Reformers took monotheism very seriously. 
A little later the triumphs of physical science led 
to its being taken no less seriously on other than 
religious grounds. Voltaire, for example, was an 
ardent monotheist, not because he wanted to be like 



26 


ONE AND MANY 


the Jews, but because Sir Isaac Newton had sticcess- 
fuUy formulated, in terms of mathematical equations, 
a number of apparently changeless Laws of Nature. 
' God said, Let Newton be, and there was . . . God/ 
The physicists, it seemed, had seen through the illu- 
sion of diversity; the world was one and, with it, 
the world^s Creator. In due course Voltaire's God 
became an abstraction, and as an abstraction, a word, 
he still presides, very remotely, over tlie destinies of 
most serious-minded people at the present timc- 

§ 7. The Present 

The contemporary circumstances are even more 
propitious to the spread of monotheism than were those 
of the Roman Empire. What the impeiial admini- 
stration did for the Mediterranean basin and Western 
Europe, commerce and good communications, cheap 
printing and elementary education for ail, tlie cinema 
and the radio, have done for the world at large. In s|)ite 
of national antagonisms, we arc aware of a certain 
planetary unity. It is an unity, at present, merely 
of economic interests; and perhaps it will never be 
more than that. To me, at any rate, it seems In the 
highest degree unlikely that mankind will ever feel 
itself intimately and livingly one. The dilferences of 
race and place are too enormous. Tiie !:>lood of 
Europeans pulses to a rhythm of life that is not the 
same as the rhythm of Indian or Chinese or Negro 
blood. And the various climates and continents 
impose a variety of existence- A northerner can never 
feel as a man of the tropics feels ; America imposes a 
mode of being that is radically unlike the modes of 
being possible in the Old World. There is such a 
thing as absolute alienness. An absolute aiienncss 
which no amount of Esperanto and internationaJ 
government of movies and thousand-miIes*an-hour 



ONE AND MANY 


27 


aeroplanes and standardized education, will ever, it 
seems to me, completely abolish. 

Meanwhile, however, economic unity exists and 
men are aware of their common interests, just as 
under the Romans they were aware of their common 
servitude to a single master. The social circumstances 
are propitious to monotheism. But propitious cir- 
cumstnnccs arc not creative, only fertilizing; there 
must be a psychological seed for the circumstances to 
be propitious to. In our contemporary world, what 
is the seed of monotheism ? 

For a section of the modern slave population 
Christianity is still the introduction to monotheism. 
But only for a section. Most slaves at the present 
time are not Christian at all. They are either too 
well off to feel the need of a consolatory faith — 
(witness the transformation of Christianity in America 
from a religion predominantly concerned with other 
worklly virtues and posthumous revenges into a 
system for the justification of wealth and the preaching 
of industrious respectability; from a system that 
condemned the Pharisee — ^that shining example of 
Good Citizenship — into one that exalts the Pharisee 
above every other human type) — either, I repeat, 
they are too prosperous to be Christians, or else, if 
they are badly off and discontented, they turn to one 
of the politick surrogates of Christianity and find in 
communism and dreams of terrestrial Utopias a com- 
forting prospect of happiness for themselves and 
condign punishment for their enemies. (From a 
political point of view, one of the great merits of 
Cliristianity is that it persuades the discontented 
to seek the cause of their woes, not in the surrounding 
social system, not in the crimes of their rulers, but in 
their own sinful natures and the divine order of the 
universe. For the English working classes the early 
B 



28 


ONE AND MANY 


years of the industrial epoch were years of unspeakable 
misery and degradation. Yet there was no revolution 
in England. For that we have largely to thank the 
Methodists. These single-minded revivalists of Chris- 
tianity did more to pieserve the stability of English 
institutions than all the Tory politicians. The 
greatest conservatives of the age were not the 
Wellesleys, but the Wesleys.) 

Contemporary monotheism^ — that vague and secular 
doctrine of the divine unity, which is now taken for 
granted as a sort of axiomatic truism — has its main 
psychological source in what, for lack of a better name, 
may be called our inteliectualism. Not that we an^ 
ail intellectuals nowadays. Far from it. But still 
less are we all predominantly instinctive, passional, 
intuitive beings. Instinct, passion, intuition are 
hindrances rather than helps to elTicient citizenship 
of the contemporaiy world. We are members of a 
very highly organized society, in wliich it pays 
best to be either a man who understands and unre- 
mittingly wills, or else a kind of obedient automaton. 
Inevitably; for the more complicated the social 
machine, the more inhumanly and mechanically 
simple becomes the task of the subordinate individual, 
the more inhumanly difficult that of the commanding 
organizer. Those who wish to lead a quiet life in our 
modem world must be like Babbitt— unc|uestionixigly 
a cog. Those who are ambitious to lead a {by current 
st^dards) successful life must be like Ford, deter- 
mined and very consciously intelligent. Those who 
would lead a thoroughly disastrous life have only to 
model themselves on the pattern, shall we say, of 
Bums or William Blake. In a society like ours 4he 
pccessful are those who live intensely with thm 
intellectual and voluntary side of their being, and m 
little as possible with the rest of themselves* The 



ONE ANO MANY 


29 


quietly Good Citizens are those who live as little as 
possible on any plane of existence. While those who 
live fully and harmoniously with their whole being are 
doomed to almost certain social disaster. 

Triumphant science enhances the already enormous 
prestige of will-directed intelligence. The most 
ignorant member of the modern slave population 
would probably agree with Aristotle that the pursuit 
of knowledge is the highest duty and that the only 
permissible excesses are excesses of the intellect. 

The intellectual, scientific knowledge of things 
which we now esteem so highly is a knowledge of 
the unity which underlies, at any rate in our minds, 
the manifold diversity of the world. Direct, living 
knowledge of diversity is not, by social and scientific 
standards, useful knowledge. There is also a direct 
intuitive knowledge of unity ; but it comes to us but 
rarely. At most times, and by most people, unity is 
apprehended after the fact by the abstracting intellect. 
For practical and scientific purposes the direct, or 
mystical, knowledge of unity is as useless as the 
direct knowledge of diversity. 

The value of direct knowledge, as I shall try 
to show later on, consists in the fact that it is a 
stimulator, a nourisher of life. Between the two 
kinds of knowledge — the direct physical knowledge, 
whether of diversity or of unity, and the intellectual 
knowledge, abstracted and generalized out of this 
physical knowledge — is a difference analogous to that 
between food and an instrument. Knives and 
hammers are indispensable ; but so, to an even higher 
degree^ is bread. Our present tendency is to over- 
valwi the instrument and to undervalue the food 
i?#ich alone can give us the vital power and health to 
use the instrument properly. Contemporary mono- 
theism is an expression of our excessive love for that 



30 


ONE AND MANY 


abstract knowledge of the general and tlie uniform 
which enables us to explain and predict and organize 
and do many other useful things, but gives us, alas ! 
no sustenance by which we may live. 

§ 8. Pragmatic Sayictions 

My theme so far has been monotheism as truth 
or falsehood, and monotheism as a historical hict. 
The time has now come to consider the rights and 
wrongs of monotheism, its usefulness or the reverse, 
its conformity or nonconformity to the facts of human 
nature. 

Of monotheism's conformity to the psycliological 
facts — of its inward as opposed to its outward truth - - 
I have already said something. Let me recapitulate 
in a rather different key. We can affirm that the 
universe, with its divinity, is one, founding our belief 
on the fact that we have had a direct experience of its 
unity. But in this case we must ignore all the mudi 
more numerous occasions when we have had a direct 
experience of its diversity. True, the mystics arc 
never tired of affirming that their direct perceptions of 
unity are intenser, of finer quality and intrinsically 
more convincing, more self-evident, than tlwur 
direct perceptions of diversity. But they can only 
speak for themselves. Other people's direct intui- 
tions of diverse ' appearances ' may be just as intensc^Iy 
self-evident as their intuition of unique * reality.* 
Not only may be, but evidently are — that is, if we 
can judge by the artistic statements of their ex- 
periences made by talented unity-perceivers an<l 
talented diversity-perceivers respectively. (And we 
have no other means of judging.) The final mystery 
is unknowable. Men's confused perceptions of it are 
diverse and contradictory. The tnith-— the inward 
truth, I mean, rince that is the only truth we can 



ONE AND MANY 


31 


know — ^is that God is different for different men, and 
for the same man on different occasions. The testi- 
mony of the mystics cannot be made to prove more 
than this. Nor can that of the discursive reasoners. 
For if we arrive at our notion of divine unity by a 
process of discursive reasoning after the event, we 
tind ourselves forced to affirm that one psychological 
fact (in this case of an intellecttial kind) is " truer * 
than another (of a sensuous kind). An assumption 
tor which, as we have already seen, there is no 
justification, but which has nevertheless been made by 
many philosophers, from Plato onwards and down- 
wards. It is an attractive assumption, and one 
which flatters human weakness. For immediately 
apprehended reality is inextricably bewildering to the 
conscious and purposive thinker. It is only in a 
home-made universe of abstractions that men can 
feel thoroughly at home. How gratifying to think 
that this cosy little world of ideas is ' truer ' than the 
vast and shifting incoherency of surrounding appear- 
ances I And to know that one's own pet universe is 
also God's pet universe, that one's own elegant world 
of words is the world of the Word with a large W ; 
what a source of legitimate pride, and what a com- 
fort I One is not surprised at Plato's popularity. 

But one psychological fact is as good as another; 
there is no conceivable method of demonstrating that 
God is either one or many. So far as human beings 
are concerned, he is both; monotheism and poly- 
theism are equally true. But are they equally 
useful ? Do they tend equally to the quickening and 
enhancement of human life? (I am assuming — it is 
an of faith — that more and intenser life is prefer- 
able to less and feebler life.) 

Let us put the questions in more general, more 
fundamentally psychological terms* Monotheism and 



32 


ONE AND MANY 


polytheism are more or less systematic rationalizations 
of a sentiment of our own and the world’s unity and a 
sentiment of our own and the world’s diversity, 
respectively. Which is the more valuable for life— 
the unity-feeling with its various religious or pliiioso- 
phical rationalizations, or the diversity-feeling with 
its attendant doctrines ? 

§ 9. The Two Kinds of Knowledge 

Men are also citizens; there are no Crusoes. 
In a highly organized society, however, the citizens 
are apt to forget that they are also men. They c'oine 
to value themselves and their fellows for what they 
can do in a socially useful way — as personiiled func- 
tions rather than as human beings. They admire 
those who are well provided witli that kind of know- 
ledge which I have called instrumentaL For those 
who have grown strong on the knowledge that is 
life’s nourishment, they have no particular respect; 
on the contrary, they often despise and, at the same 
time, mistrust and fear them. 

Files and screwdrivers are not the most satis- 
factory articles of diet. Analogously, there is no 
psychical nourishment to be drawn from tlie abstract, 
instrumental knowledge so much appreciated In a 
society like our own. Souls are nourished only by 
a direct participative knowledge of tihngs, by 
an immediate physical contact, by a relationship 
involving wiU, desire, feeling, (And, incident ally, if 
those who pursue instrumental knowledge do some- 
times succeed in deriving a kind of nourishment from 
their hies and screwdrivers, that is due to the fact tliat 
they are filled with a passion for these tools, that they 
pursue their abstractions with appetite and a sort of 
sensuality.) 

Direct participative knowledge is mostly a know- 



ONE AND MANY 


33 


ledge of diversity. Neglecting for the moment the 
mystic's direct participative knowledge of unity, we 
can say that the human spirit is mainly nourished by 
the multiplicity of the world. We incorporate this 
multiplicity into our substance; it becomes part of 
ourselves. Gnosce teipsum : the commandment can 
only be obeyed on condition that we know, participa- 
tively know, the multiple world. For it is essentially 
the same with the mind as with the body. These 
fields of potatoes and cabbages, these browsing sheep 
and oxen, are potentially a part of me; and unless 
they actually become part of me, I die. My future 
activity is green, is woolly, manures and is manured, 
says baa, says moo, says nothing at aU. The ap- 
parent boundaries of any real being are not its real 
boundaries. We all think we know what a lion is, 
A lion is a desert -coloured animal with a mane and 
claws and an expression like Garibaldi's. But it is 
also, in Africa, all the neighbouring antelopes and 
zebras, and therefore, indirectly, all tlie neighbouring 
grass. It is also, behind the menagerie bars, all the 
superannuated horses that come into the local market. 
In the same way, a human spirit is all that it can 
experience. Its boundaries are even more indefinitely 
wide than those of the corporeal man. The whole 
exporienceable world is potentially a part of it, just 
as the whole edible or otherwise physically assimilable 
world is a part, potentially, of the body. But the 
body remains, for all practical purposes, the same, 
whatever, within limits, the food that nourishes it. 
The spirit, on the other hand, can be profoundly 
modified by that which it assimilates. Certain ex- 
periences will alter the relative importance of the 
elements composing the soul, will suddenly waken 
what had been asleep and violently actualize what 
had been only latent hitherto and potential Changes 



34 


ONE AND MANY 


which, if they happened to the body, would he miracu- 
lous, are everyday occurrences in the world of the 
spirit. No man can know himself completely, for the 
good reason that no man can have had ali possi!>k 
experiences and therefore can never have reali/.ed ali 
the potentialities of his being. The man who spcunls 
his time tr5dng, introspectively, to ' know himself ' 
discovers less than any one else. Necessarily. For 
there is less for him to discover. Self-limited, his sole 
experience a kind of spiritual onanism, he only partially 
exists. If there were no antelopes and zebras thiire 
would be no lion. When the supply of game runs low, 
the king of beasts grows thin and mangy; it ci‘ases 
altogether, and he dies. So with the souL I ts j^rincipal 
food is the direct, the physical experience of diversity. 

Certain philosophers deliberately reduce the food 
supply, ' '' Do you think it like a philosopher to 
take very seriously what are called pleasures, such as 
eating and drinking?" "Certainly not, Socrates," 
said Simmias.' (How one's feet itch to ki<'k the 
bottoms of these imbeciles who always agree witli 
old sophist, whatever nonsense he talks ! They de- 
served the hemlock even more richly than their 
master.) * " Or sex? " ' Socrates goes on. ^ " No." 
" Or the whole business of looking after the body ? 
Will the philosopher rate that highly? " ' Of coursi^ 
he won't — ^the fool I The philosopher's soul ' with- 
draws itself as far as it can from all association and 
contact with the body and reaches out after truth by 
itself.' With what results? Deprived of its nourisli- 
ment, the soul grows thin and mangy, like the starved 
lion. Disgusted and pitying in the midst of our 
admiration, ' Poor brutes I ' we cry at the sight of 
such extraordinary and lamentable souls as those of 
Kant, of Newton, of Descartes. ' Why aren't they 
given enough to eat ? ' 



ONE AND MANY 


35 


The ascetics go even further than the philosophers. 
They starve their souls to death — or, in more orthodox 
language, detach themselves completely from all 
earthly things. Ceasing to perceive, to think, to feel, 
to desire, to act, the more mystical among them fall 
into that state of ecstatic coma when the blank and 
empty spirit is said to be united with the Infinite — 
in other words, when it has ceased to be alive. The 
more practical ascetics — reformers or reactionary 
soldiers of the church militant — galvanize their death 
into a gruesome activity with the stimulus of some 
monomaniacal principle, some insanely fixed idea. 

Philosophers and ascetics are not, of course, the 
only people who commit self-murder. The money- 
grubber, the hai'd-headed business man, the routine- 
worker, pass their existence no less suicidally. The 
professional Don Juan destroys his spirit as fatally as 
does the professional ascetic, whose looking-glass image 
he is. To live, the soul must be in intimate contact 
with the world, must assimilate it through all the 
channels of sense and desire, thought and feeling, 
which nature has provided for the purpose. Anything 
which obstructs these channels injures the soul — any 
deadening routine, any dull habitual unawareness, 
any exclusive monomania, whether of vice or of that 
other vice which is excessive virtue. Close up enough 
of these channels, cut off enough of its nourishment, 
and the starved soul dies. 

Dead souls, like dead bodies, either shrivel up into 
dry and dusty mummies, or else, decaying, they stink. 
What an unbearable stench arises, for example, from 
the Thebaid I One must hold one's nose when one 
reads PaOadius's history. Calvin’s Geneva is another 
open sewer. So is the Paris of De Nerciat's Felicia. 
So are Podsnap’s London and Babbitt’s Zenith. The 
odour of Marie Alacoque's sanctity is enough to give 



ONE AND ]^IANY 


36 

one typhoid. Even in PascaFs neighbourhood there 
is a bit of a smell. Other dead souls do not damply 
rot, but wither almost aromatically into desiccation. 
About many scholars, for example, there hangs no 
worse an odour than that of dust and ok! landings. 
There are certain saints who have dried xip into a 
condition of powdery fragrance, like lavender ixdween 
the sheets in a linen-cupboard. Positively a pleasant 
smell. But I for one prefer the moist, still earthy 
perfume of the flowers on the growing plant that has 
its roots deep burrowing and darkly living in the soil. 

Life, then, individual life, is mainly iKuirished by 
the direct participative knowledge of the worUVs 
diversity. Out of that diversity, and out of tiie inner 
diversity of the human spirit, the poetic imaginatioii 
of man extracts the deities of polytheism. And the 
rites of their worship are man's participative know- 
ledge and man's emotional reactit)ns to the world, 
systematized in a set of words and gestures. The 
ritual of Catholicism is a maimed version of poly- 
theistic ritual — maimed, because it systematizes only 
a part of man's emotional reactions to the world, 
because it ignores, or brands as evil, certain kinds of 
participative knowledge of certain wl lule dasscs of 
things. Every dionysiac reaction to the world, every 
corybantic participation of individual energies with 
the energies of living nature, has been proscribed. 
The Catholic ritual canalizes only a part of the 
human responses to the universe, just as tlie Cliris- 
tian God symbolically represents only a part of the 
psychological and cosmic reality. 

The intuitive or intellectual realization of cosmic 
unity, the religious and philosoplncal systems wliich 
impose this cosmic unity as a necessary dogma, 
possess, for man, a predominantly social and scientific 
value. Without some unifying hypothesis, without 



ONE AND MANY 


37 


generalizations and abstractions, organized knowledge 
is impossible. Social relations would be equally im- 
possible, if men did not believe in some sort of com- 
munity of tribal, national, and finally human interests, 
or weie without a conception of their own psycho- 
logical unity and that of their fellows. The Gods 
symbolize, and at the same time confirm, the com- 
munity of their worshippers' interests. The concep- 
tion of the individual soul, single, persistent, and 
responsible, is at once an expression and a guarantee 
of man's individual and social monility. 

§ 10. Conclusions 

Monotheism and potytheism are doctrines equally 
necessary and equally true. Man can and does con- 
ceive of himself and of the world as being, now essen- 
tially many, and now essentially one. Tlieretore — 
since God, for our human purposes, is simply Life in 
so lar as man can conceive it as a whole — ‘the Divine 
is both one and many. A purely monotheistic 
religion is thus seen to be inadequate and unrealistic. 
The present age is predominantly monotheistic — 
monotheistic cither because it feebly believes in a 
decaying Christianity, or else secularly and irre- 
ligiously monotheistic, with the unitarianism of 
science, of democracy, of international capitalism. 
In the interests of the Man as opposed to the Citizen 
(and incidentally in the interests of the Citizen too— 
for you cannot ruin the individual without, in the 
long run, ruining society) it has become necessary to 
protest against this now pernicious doctrine. Tem- 
pering what would have been, in the dark ages of 
chaotic barbarism, a dangerous cult of diversity, the 
worship of one God was doubtless, in its time, an 
admirable thing. Times have changed ; monotheism 
has lost the value which circumstances once gave it. 



ONE AND MANY 


3S 

It lacks political utility, and to the individual it is a 
poison. Even in its worst days polytiieism never 
degenerated, as monotheism has done, into bloodless 
religious spirituality on the one hand, and an irreligious 
worship, on the other, of no less bloodless intellectual 
abstractions and mechanical efficiency. The sterile 
creed of the ascetic has to a great extent given place, 
in our modem world, to the sterile creeds of the 
abstraction-worshipping man of scic*ncc and the 
machine-worshipping man of applied science {who is 
the modern * average man '), IndecKl, Christian 
spirituality prepared the way for our intellect ualism 
and machine-worship by rendering disreputable all 
that in human nature is not mind, not spirit, not 
conscious will. The established religion decayed ; btit 
the philosophical and ethical habits which it had 
generated moulderingly persisted and persist. The 
high-minded man who would, in the past, have been 
an earnest Christian, is now — ^what ? Not an earnest 
(or preferably light-hearted) pagan, !>ut an earnest 
intellectual, living ascetically for knowledge. And 
the low-minded man? Jle is no ascetic, of course, 
and his goal is not knowledge, but money, comfort, 
and a ‘ good time,* The intellectual despises him for 
living grossly, on the plane of the body. The con- 
tempt is justified because he lives so inadequately 
and poorly on that plane. (If he lived well there, he 
would be a much better man than the intellectual.) 
Lacking all religious significance, his physical and 
instinctive life is pointless and rather dirty. It is 
also lamentably incomplete. By deconsecrating his 
body and the diverse world with which it partid- 
patively communicates through the instincts, feelings, 
and d^irp, by robbing them of their divine meaning, 
Christianity has left him without defence against our 
mechanized civilization. Rationalized division of 



ONE AND MANY 


39 


labour takes all the sense out of his work. (For, as I 
have ali'cady pointed out, the more elaborately com- 
plicated the social organization, the more inhumanly 
and abjectly simple becomes the task of the indi- 
vidual.) Machines relieve him, not merely of drud- 
gery, but of the possibility of performing any creative 
or spontaneous act whatsoever. And this is now true 
of his leisure as well as of his labour; he has almost 
ceased even to try to divert himself, but sits and 
suffers a standardized entertainment to trickle over 
his passive consciousness. Amusements have been 
mechanized; it is the latest and perhaps the most 
fatal triumph of our industrial-scientific civilization. 
By men with a religious sense of Life’s divineness the 
inroads of this civilization would have been bitterly 
resented and .stubbornly resisted. Not by Christians, 
however. Cliristianity had taught that the worship 
of any aspect of Life but the spiritual was a sin. 
Good pagans might have found a satisfactory method 
of dealing with the problems raised by the coming of 
the machine. Good Christians could hardly see that 
there were any problems to solve. Passively they 
accepted the evil thing. They accepted it because 
they did not sec that it was evil. The machine had 
nothing to do with the body; its function was to 
' set the mind free for higher things." It might be 
regarded, in fact, as a positively spiritual object. 

The chief result of the preaching of Christian 
spirituality and of its later substitutes, scientific in- 
tellect uaiism and business efficiency, is that men now 
instinctively and enthusiastically love the lowest when 
they see it. The apostles laboured, the martyrs died 
in torment, the philosophers thought sublime thoughts, 
by precept and example the scholars and the men of 
science proclaimed the beauties of the ^ higher life," 
the sociologists untiringly inculcated the duty of good 



40 


ONE AND MANY 


■citizenship, and all agreed that God is one and a 
spirit, and that man's first duty is to resemtde God. 
To what end ? That men might become ptirer, they 
would have answered, better, more than men. But 
what has actually occurred? Trying to live stiper- 
liumanly, men have sunk, in all but tlic purely mental 
sphere, towards a kind of sub-humanity tliat it \i^ould 
be an undeserved compliment to call bestial. Turned 
against Life, they have worshipped Death in the form 
of spirituality, intellectualism, and at last mtire 
efficiency. Deprived of the support of Life's divinities, 
they have succumbed to the shoddy temptations of 
the Devil of the Machine. By exhorting num to lea<l 
the * higher life,’ Christianity and its philosophical 
successors have condemned men to an exi.stence in- 
comparably lower than that * low life ’ against which 
they have always fulminated. To their cry of ' I£x- 
celsior ! ’ humanity has responded (in the very nature 
of things It could not do otherwise) by rushing down 
a steep place into— what? We who are only part 
way down the Gadarene water-chute are not as yet in 
a position to answer. The gulf lies dark before us, 
and stinking. 

If men are ever to rise again from the depths into 
which they are now descending, it will only be with 
the aid of a new religion of life. And since life is 
diverse, the new religion will have to Iiave many 
Gods. Many ; but since the individual man Is an 
unity in his various multiplicity, also one. It will 
have to be Dionysian and Panic as well as Apollonian ; 
Orphic as well as rational; not only Christian, but 
Martial and Venerean too ; Phallic as well as Minervan 
or Jehovahistic, It will have to be all, in a word, 
that human life actually is, not merely the symbolical 
expression of one of its aspects, MeanwhilCi however, 
the Gadarene descent continues. 



SILENCE IS GOLDEN : 1929 


I HAVE jtist been, for the first time, to see and hear a 
picture talk. ' A little late in the day/ my up-to-date 
readers will remark, with a patronizing and con- 
temptuous smile. ' This is 1929 ; there isn't much 
news in talkies now. But better late than never.' 

Better late than never? Ah, no! There, my 
friends, you're wrong. This is one of those cases 
where it is most decidedly better never than late, 
better never than early, better never than on the 
stroke of time. One of the numerous cases, I may 
add ; and the older I grow, the more numerous I find 
them. There was a time when I should have felt 
terribly ashamed of not being up-to-date. I lived in 
a chronic apprehension lest I might, so to speak, miss 
the last bus, and so find myself stranded and be- 
nighted in a desert of demodedness, while others, 
more nimlde than myself, had already climbed on 
board, taken their tickets and set out towards those 
bright but, alas, ever receding goals of Modernity and 
Sophistication. Now, however, I have grown shame- 
less, I have lost my fears. I can watch unmoved 
the departure of the last social-cultural bus — the 
inntimcrable last buses, which are starting at every 
instant in all the world's capitals. I make no effort 
to board them, and when the noise of each departure 
has died down, ' Thank Goodness ! ' is what I say to 
myself in the solitude. I find nowadays that I simply 
don't want to be up-to-date. I have lost all desire 
to see and do the things, the seeing and doing of 
which entitle a man to regard himself as superiorly 
4 ^ 



42 


SILENCE IS GOLDEN 


knowing, sophisticated, unprovincial ; I have lost all 
desire to frequent the places and people that a man 
simply must frequent, if he is not to be regarded as a 
poor creature hopelessly out of the swim, " Be up- 
to-date 1 ' is the categorical imperative of those who 
scramble for the last bus. But it is an imperative 
whose cogency I refuse to admit. When it is a ques- 
tion of doing something which I regard as a duty, I 
am as ready as any one else to put up with discom- 
fort. But being up-to-date and in the swim has 
ceased, so far as I am concerned, to be a <iuty, Wliy 
should I have my feelings outraged, why should I 
submit to being bored and disgusted, for the sake 
of somebody else's categorical imperative? Why? 
There is no reason. So I simply avoid most of the 
manifestations of that so-called ' life ' which my con- 
temporaries seem to be so unaccountably anxious to 
" see ' ; I keep out of range of the ‘ art ' they think it 
so vitally necessary to ' keep up with ' ; I flee from 
those " good times,' in the ' having ' of which they are 
prepared to spend so lavislily of their energy and 
cash. 

Such, then, are the reasons for my very tardy 
introduction to the talkies. The explanation of my 
firm resolve never, if I can help it, to l>e rc-int reduced 
will be found in the following simple narrative of 
what I saw and heard in that fetid !udl on the Boule- 
vard des Italians, where the latest and most frightful 
creation-saving device for the production of stan- 
dardized amusement had been installed. 

We entered the hall half-way through tlae |)cr- 
formance of a series of music-hall turns— not sul>- 
stantial ones, of course, but the two-dimensional 
images of turns with artificial voices. There were no 
travel films, nothing in the Natural History line, none 
of those fascinating Events of tlie Week— Lady 



SILENCE IS GOLDEN 


43 


Mayoresses launching battleships, Japanese earth- 
quakes, huridred-to-one outsiders winning races, revo- 
lutionaries on the march in Nicaragua — which are 
always the greatest and often the sole attractions in 
the programmes of our cinemas. Nothing but dis- 
embodied entertainers, gesticulating flatly on the 
screen and making gramophone-like noises as they 
did so. Some sort of comedian was performing as we 
entered. But he soon vanished to give place to 
somebody's celebrated jazz-band — not merely audible 
in all its loud vulgarity of brassy guffaw and cater- 
wauling sentiment, but also visible in a series of 
apocalyptic close-ups of the individual performers. 
A beneficent providence has dimmed my powers of 
sight, so that at a distance of more than four or five 
yards I am blissfully unaware of the full horror of the 
average human countenance. At the cinema, how- 
ever, there is no escape. Magnified up to Brobding- 
nagian proportions, the human countenance smiles 
its six-foot smiles, opens and siiuts its thirty-two-inch 
eyes, registers soul fulness or grief, libido or whim- 
sicality, with every square centimetre of its several 
roods of pallid mooniness. Nothing short of total 
blindness can preserve one from tlie spectacle. The 
jazz-players were forced upon me; I regarded them 
witli a fascinated horror. It was tlie first time, I 
suddenly realized, that I had ever clearly seen a jazz- 
band. The spectacle was positively terrifying. 

The pijrformers belonged to two contrasted races. 
There were the dark and polished young Hebrews, 
whose souls were in those mournfully sagging, sea- 
sickishly undulating melodies of mother-love and 
nostalgia and yammering amorousness and clotted 
sensu^ity which have ^en the characteristically 
Jewish contributions to modern popular music. And 
there were tlie chubby young Nordics, with Aryan 



44 


SILENCE IS GOLDEN 


faces transformed by the strange piaslic forces of the 
North American environment into the likeness of very 
large uncooked muffins or the unveiled postcriois of 
babes. (The more sympathetic Red Indian type of 
Nordic American face was completely absent from 
this particular assemblage of jazz-players.) Gigan- 
tically enlarged, these personages appeared one after 
another on the screen, each singing or playing his 
instrument, and at the same time registering the 
emotions appropriate to the musical circumstances. 
The spectacle. I repeat, was really terrifying. For tlie 
first time I felt grateful for the defect of vision which 
had preserved me from an earlier acquaintance with 
such aspects of modem life. And at the same time 
I wished that I could become, for tlic occasion, a 
little hard of hearing. For if good mu.sic has charms 
to soothe the savage breast, bad music has no less 
powerful spells for filling the mildest breast with 
rage, the happiest with horror and disgust. Oh, those 
mammy-songs, those love-longings, those Imul hilari- 
ties ! How was it possible tliat human tmiotious 
intrinsically decent could be so ignobly panKlietl? I 
felt like a man who, having asked for win<\ is oih'recl 
a brimming bowl of hog- wash. And not even fresh 
hog-wash. Rancid hog-wash, decaying hog- wash. 
For there was a horrible tang of putrefaction in all 
that music. Those yearnings for Mammy of ]\Iinc 
and My Baby, for Dixie and the Land wlierc Skies 
are Blue and Dreams come True, for Granny an<i 
Tennessee and You — ^they were all a necropliily. 
The Mammy after whom the black young llel>fcws 
and the blond young muffin-faces so retchingiy yearned 
was an ancient Gorgonzola cheese ; the Baby of their 
tremulously gargled desire was a leg of mutton after 
a month in warm storage; Granny had twen dead 
for wfeks; and as for Dixie and Tennessee and 



SILENCE IS GOLDEN 


45 


Dream Land—thcy were odoriferous with the least 
artificial of manures. 

When, after what seemed hours, the jazz-band con- 
cluded its dreadful performance, I sighed in thank- 
fulness. But the thankfulness was premature. For 
the film which followed was hardly less distressing. 
It was the story of the child of a Cantor in a syna- 
gogue, afllirtecl, to his father's justifiable fury, with 
an itch for jazz. This itch, assisted by the Cantor's 
boot, sends him out into the world, where, in due 
course, and tlianks to My Baby, his dreams come 
trce-ue, and he is employed as a jazz-singer on the 
music-hall stage. Promoted from the provinces to 
Broadway, the jazz-singer takes the opportunity to 
revisit the home of his childhood. But the Cantor 
will have nothing to do with him, absolutely nothing, 
in spite of liis success, in spite, too, of his moving 
eloquence, * You yourself always taught me,’ says 
the son pathetically, ' that the voice of music was the 
voice of God.' Vox jazzi vox Dei — the truth is new 
and beautiful. But stern old Poppa's heart refuses 
to be melted. Even Mammy of Mine is unable to 
patch up a reconciliation. The singer is reduced to 
going out once more into the night — and from the 
night back to his music-hall, where, amid a forest of 
waving legs, he resumes his interrupted devotions to 
that remarkable God whose voice is the music of 
Mr. Irving Berlin as interpreted by Mr. Paul White- 
man's orchestra. 

The crisis of the drama arrives when, the Cantor 
being mortally sick and unable to fulfil his functions 
at the synagogue, Mammy of Mine and the Friends 
of his Childhood implore the young man to come and 
sing the Atonement Service in his father's place. 
Unhappily, this religious function is booked to take 
place at the same hour as that other act of worship 



40 


SILENCE IS GOLDEN 


vulgarly known as the First Night. Tiiere ensues a 
terrific struggle, worthy of the pen of a Racine or a 
Dryden, between love and honour. Love for I^Iarniny 
of Mine draws the jazz-singer towards the synagogue; 
but love for My Baby draws the Cantor's son towauls 
the theatre, where she, as principal Star, is serving 
the deity no less acceptably with her legs and smile 
than he with his voice. Honour also calls from 
either side; for Honour deniand.s that lie should 
serve the God of his fathers at the synagogue, but it 
also demands that he should serve the jazz-voiced 
God of his adoption at the theatre. Some veiy 
eloquent captions appear at this point. With the 
air of a seventeenth-century liero, the jazz-.singer pro- 
tests that he must put his Career before even his 
love. The nature of the dilemma has changed, it 
will be seen, since Dryden 's day. In the old dramas, 
it was love that had to be sacrificed to painful duty. 
In the modern instance the sacrifice is at the shrine 
of what William James called ' the Bitch Goddi^ss, 
Success.' Love is to be abandoned for the stern pur- 
suit of newspaper notoriety and dollars. The change 
is significant of the Weltanschauung, if not of I lie 
youngest generation, at any rate of that which has 
passed and is in process of passing. The youngest 
generation seems to be as little interested in careers 
and money as in anything else, outside its own 
psychology. But this is by the way. 

In the end the singer makes the best of Ixith 
worlds—satisfies Mammy of Mine and even Poor 
Poppa by singing at the synagogue, and, on the 
following evening, scores a terrific success at the |Kist- 
poned first night of My Baby's revue. The film con- 
cludes with a scene in the theatre, with Mammy of 
Mine in the stalls (Poor Poppa is by this time safely 
underground), and the son, with My Baby in the 



SILENCE IS GOLDEN 


47 


background, warbling down at her the most nauseat- 
ingly luscious, the most penetratingly vulgar mammy- 
song that it has ever been my lot to hear. My flesh 
crept as the loud-speaker poured out those sodden 
words, that greasy, sagging melody. I felt ashamed 
of myself for listening to such things, for even being 
a member of the species to which such things are 
addressed. But I derived a little comfort from the 
reflection that a species which has allowed all its 
instincts and emotions to degenerate and putrefy in 
such a wJiy must be pretty near cither its violent 
conclusion or else its radical transformation and 
reform. 

To what length this process of decay has gone was 
very strikingly demon.sti’ated by the next item on the 
programme, which was the first of that series of 
musiohall turns of which the dreadful jazz-band had 
been the last. For no .sooner had the singer and 
My Baby and Mammy of Mine disappeared into the 
limbo of int(ir-cincmatographic darkness, than a very 
large and classically-proflled personage, dre.sscd in the 
uniform of a clown, appeared on the screen, opened 
his mouth very wide indeed, and poured out, in a 
terrific Italian tenor voice, the famous soliloquy of 
Pagliacci from Leoncavallo's opera. Rum, Turn, 
Ti-Tum, Turn; Rum-ti-ti, Turn, Ti-Tum, Turn — it is 
the bawling-ground of every Southern virtuoso, and 
a piece which, at ordinary times, I would go out of 
my way to avoid hearing. But in comparison with the 
jazz-band'.s Hebrew melodics and the singer's joviali- 
ties and mammy yearnings, Leoncavallo's throaty 
vulgarity seemed not only refined and sincere, but 
even beautiful, positively noble. Yes, noble; for, 
after all, the composer, whatever his native second- 
rateness, had stood in some sort of organic relation- 
ship, through a tradition of taste and of feeling, with 



48 SILENCE IS GOLDEN 

the men who built Santa Maria del Fiore and the 
Malatestan temple, who painted the frescoes at 
Arezzo and Padua, who composed the Mass of Pope 
Marcellus and wrote the Divine Comedy and tlie 
Orlando Furioso. Whereas the Hebrew melodists and 
the muffin-faced young Nordics, with their Swanee 
whistles and their saxophones, liie mammy-songsters, 
the vocal yeamers for Dixie and My Baby, are in no 
kind of relationship with any of the iiumemorial 
decencies of human life, but only with their own 
inward decay. It is a corruption as novel as the 
regime under which they and all the rest of us now 
live — as novel as protestantism and capitalism; as 
novel as urbanization and democracy and the apo- 
theosis of the Average Man; as novel as Benjaniin- 
Franklinism and the no less repulsive piiilosophy and 
ethic of the young Good Timer; as novel as crcaticju- 
saving machinery and the thought-saving, time-kiiling 
press; as novel as Taylorizcd work anci mechanized 
amusement. Ours is a spiritual climate in whidi tlm 
immemorial decencies find it hard to flourish. Another 
generation or so should see them definitely dead* Is 
there a resurrection ? 



SPINOZA’S WORM 


' Let us imagine/ writes Spinoza, ' a little worm in 
the blood, which has vision enough to discern the 
particles of blood, lymph, etc., and reason enough to 
observe how one particle is repelled by another with 
which it c<;mes in contact, or communicates a part of 
its motion to it. Such a worm would live in the 
blood as we do in this part of the universe, and would 
regard each particle ot it, not as a part, but as a 
whole, nor could it know how all the parts are in- 
Eiienced by the universal nature of the blood and are 
obliged to accommodate themselves to each other as 
is re< pared by that nature, so that they co-operate 
together according to a fixed law.’ And so on. The 
gist of the matter^ — and it is the gist of all Spinoza’s 
philosophy— is that we ought to live and move and 
have our being in the infinite, rather than the finite, 
that we should do our thinking in terms of the uni- 
versal unity, not in terms of individual particulars. 
In a word, that we should cease to be worms in the 
blood and become — what? Butterflies, I suppose, 
winging freely through space. 

Now, it would obviously be very agreeable to be a 
butterfly — more agreeable no doubt than to be a 
worm, even a worm in the rich warm blood. But, in 
practice and as a matter of observable fact, can 
worms transform themselves at will into butterflies ? 
Is the miracle within their powers? I have met 
with no evidence to convince me that it is. It is true, 
of course, that we can, by an effort of the abstracting 
mind, conceive of an infinite unity which alone 
49 



50 


SPINOZA^S WORM 


possesses reality; we can, with an effort, persuade 
ourselves that this infinite unity is really indivisible, 
and that the world of distinctions and relations in 
which we normally live is purely illusory. It is true 
that we can, again with an effort, relegate time and 
motion to the sphere of illusion, regarding them as 
out own peculiarly inadequate apprehensions of 
another dimension of unique and immoval>!c space. 
It is also true that, in certain circumstances, we can 
actually feel, as a direct intuition, the existence of tiie 
all-comprehending unity, can intimatc^ly realize in a 
single flash of insight the illusoriness of tlie quotidian 
world of distinctions and relations. But tlie.se apo- 
calypses are rare, and the puiTly intellectual realiza- 
tion of what such occasional my.stical states directly 
reveal can only be achieved with etfort and in the 
teeth of ail our most fundamental haliits of thought 
and feeling and sensation. And even if it were not 
so difficult to arrive at the vision of wliat philosophers 
and mystics assure us, for reasons, however, which 
can never be wholly convincing, to be the Truth; 
even if it were easy for us to pass in the spirit from 
the world of distinctions and relations to that of 
infinity and unity, — we should be no nearer to Ixdng 
able to live in that higher world. For we live with 
our bodies ; and our bodies grossly refuse to l>e any- 
thing but distinct and relative. Hotliing ran Induce 
the body to admit its own illusoriness, ' Yon d<m‘t 
really exist," argues the intellect, poking the Ixidy in 
the ribs. * You"re not there at all ; you're just a hole 
in the inflnite substance. There is no reality but tlie 
One/ ' With which," adds the spirit, ‘ I have miule a 
personal and ecstatic acquaintance." " What you 
regard as your substantial individuality/ the intellect 
goes on, * is merely a negation of the higher reality* 
Sub specie aeterniUiUs your being is simply a not- 



SPINOZA^S WORM 


51 


being/ The body makes no reply ,* but a faint rumb- 
ling in that part of the corporeal illusion which we 
have made a habit of calling the belly proclaims that 
it is more than time for lunch. 

* Do what you will, this world's a fiction.' 

All the labours of all the metaphysicians who have 
ever thouglit about the Theory of Knowledge are 
summed up in Blake's one doggerel line. This world, 
the world of Spinoza's tiny woi’ms, is unescapably a 
fiction. But it is no less unescapably our world. 
‘ Do what we will/ we cannot get away from the fic- 
tion. It is only on rare occasions and with the 
greatest difficulty that we can even take a temporary 
holiday from the fiction — and then it is only a part 
of us, only the mind, that wings its way towards 
Reality (if indeed it is Reality that it flies to; and 
there is, of course, no possible guarantee of that). 
The body, meanwhile, sits solidly among the too too 
solid illusions of the world, and rumbles, with what a 
vulgar insistence, what low and un-PIatonic sounds I 
wamblingly rumbles for its dinner. 

Since, then, we cannot ever escape from the world 
of illusion, let us try to make the best of it. Necessi- 
ties can be turned into excellent virtues. Fate has 
decreed that we shall be worms ; so let us resign our- 
selves to being worms; nay, let us do more than 
resign ourselves, let us be worms with gusto, strenu- 
ously ; let us make up our minds to be the best of all 
possible worms. For, after all, a good worm is better 
than tliat nondescript creature we become when we 
try to live above our station, in the world of wings. 
No amount of trying can convert a worm into even 
the worst of butterflies. Ambitious to transform him- 
self into a Swallowtail or a Camberwell Beauty, the 
high-minded worm does his best and in due course 



52 


SPINOZA'S WORM 


becomes, not even a Cabbage White, but only an In- 
ferior, half-dead version of his old self, !)unibinating 
on wings of imagination in a void. In their search 
for superhuman wisdom, philosophers and mystics 
sacrifice much valuable human knowledge, without, 
however, being rewarded for their sacrifice by any 
angelic power. What is true in the sphere of know- 
ledge is no less true in the sphere of conduct . Burns's 
Unco' Guid sacrifice their humanity for the sake of 
achieving superhumanity. But they can never, in 
the nature of things, completely realize tticir ambi- 
tion; a part of them must always and necessarily 
remain on the human plane. And on this human 
plane their sacrifices are mutilations. In ctadain 
respects they may succeed in l>cing, morally, more 
than men, but in others they becaane less. They 
mutilate themselves into subhumanity. 

Since the triumph of Christianity, life in the West 
has been organized on the assumption that worms 
ought to try to become butterflies, and tliat, in cer- 
tain circumstances, the transformation is acttially 
possible. The attainment of more tiian human know- 
ledge and a standard of more than human conduct is 
held up as an ideal; and at tlie same time it is 
afiirmed, or at least it is piously hoj>ed, that this ideal 
is realizable. In point of fact, liowever, it isn't— -as 
every one knows who has ever road a little history or 
biography, or ha^ observantly frequented his fellow- 
creatures. 

Is an ideal any the worse for being unrealizable? 
Many people would say tliat it was actually the better 
for it. Hang a carrot just out of the donkey's reach 
and he will start to run, he will go on running. But 
if ever he got his teeth into it, he would stop at once. 
It is the same, the moralists argue, with ideals; they 
must be made to retire, like the carrot, as we pursue. 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


53 


An easily realizable ideal qnickly loses its power of 
stimulation. Nothing lets a man down with such a 
bump into listless disillusionment as the discovery 
that he has achieved all his ambitions and realized all 
his ideals. Once actually seized, the carrot loo often 
turns out to be a Dead Sea fruit. Self-made men, 
whose ideal, when they set out, was success, generally 
find themselves compelled, when they have become 
successful, to hang out other and remoter carrots in 
exchange for that which they are now crunching to 
ashes between their teeth. They have to pretend that 
their efforts are somehow rendering a Christian ser- 
vice to immanity, or that they are working for some 
cause (even if it is only the cause of their share- 
holders). But for these more distant and unattain- 
able goals they would find themselves unable to con- 
tinue their already accomplished work of money- 
making. There is no possibility of any one realizing 
the Cliristian ideals. For human beings simply can- 
not, ii:i tile nature of things, be superhuman. Those 
who accept these ideals run no risk of finding them- 
selves let down into disillusionment and apathy. The 
carrot is luscious-looking enough to start them off and 
distant enough to keep them trotting for the whole 
of their natural existence. So far so good. The end 
propo.scd by the Christian ideal is attractive, its power 
to stimulate inexhaustible. But if the means to that 
end are bad, then the power to go on stimulating 
indefinitely will be a power to go on indefinitely doing 
mischief. And as we have already seen, the means 
ar& bad. For, according to the Christian notion, 
superhumanness, whether of knowledge or of con- 
duct, can only be realized through a system of morality 
that imposes the unremitting sacrifice of what may 
be called the all too human elements in human nature. 
But on tliat all too Imman plane^ on which destiny 



54 


SPINOZA'S WORM 


has decreed that we shall mostly live, whether we like 
it or not, these sacrifices are mutilations. Those who 
take the Christian ideal seriously are compelled inces- 
santly to commit a partial suicide. Ltickily, the 
majority of nominal Christians has at no time taken 
the Christian ideal very seriously ; if it liad, the races 
and the civilization of the West would long ago have 
come to an end. But men have taken the Christian 
ideal and its inferior modem succe.ssors, the scientific 
and the social ideals, seriously enough to inflict on 
themselves individually, and so, indirectly, on the 
civilization of which they are representatives, an in- 
jury that grows worse with the passage of time, and 
that, unhealed, must infallibly prove mortal. 

The perfect ideal, it is obvious, is one ]>ossessing all 
the attractiveness and the inexhaustible stimulating 
power of the Christian ideal without its attendant 
harmfulness. Like the Christian ideal of superhuman- 
ness, it must be impossible of final realization. But 
the means by which men try to realize it must be such 
as will inflict no injury on those who use them. Such 
an ideal, it seems to me, would be the ideal, not of 
superhumanness, but of perfected humanity. Let the 
worm try to be superlatively himself, the best of all 
possible worms. 

Humanity perfected and consummate — it is a high 
and finally unattainable ideal; an ideal, it seems to 
me, superior in many ways to the Christian ideal of 
superhumanness. For at the root of this aspiration 
to be more than human in knowledge and behaviour 
we find, at a last analysis, a kind of cowardice, a 
refusal to cope, except desperately, by the most brutal 
and mechanical means, with the facts, the com- 
plicated diflicult facts, of life. For what is the aspim- 
tion towards more than human knowledge but a flight 
from the infinite complexities and varieties of appear- 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


55 


ances ? The ideas of Plato, the One of Plotinus, the 
Alls, the Nothings, the Gods, the Infinites, the Natures 
of all the mystics of whatever religions, of all the 
transcendental philosophers, all the pantheists^ — ^what 
are they but convenient and consoling substitutes for 
the welter of immediate experience, home-made and 
therefore home-like spiritual snuggeries in the alien 
universe? And tlie stoic's brutal sacrifice of the 
physical, instinctive and passional life, the ascetic's 
self-castration, the modern efficiency-monger's depre- 
cation of all but willed and intelligent activities on 
the one hand, and all but purely mechanical routineer- 
ing activitiCvS on the other — ^what are these " high 
moralities ' but terrified flights from the problems of 
social and individual life? Harmonious living is a 
matter of tact and sensitiveness, of judgment and 
balance and incessant adjustment, of being well bred 
and aristocratically moral by habit and instinct. But 
this is too difficult. It is easier to live by fixed rules 
than by tact and judgment; surgical operations are 
simpler than living adjustments. A cast-iron morality 
is not admirable ; on the contrary, it is the confession 
of a fear of life, of an inability to deal with the facts 
of experience as they present themselves — the con- 
fession, in a word, of a weakness of which men should 
be ashamed, not proud. To aspire to be superhuman 
is a most discreditable admission that you lack the 
guts, the wit, the moderating judgment to be success- 
fully and consummately human. 

The superhumanists are in the habit of consoling 
themselves for their failure to realize their ideal in 
the here and now by retiring into a world of fancy. 
Our fathers thought of this world as situated in an 
earthly past and also in a posthumous eternity : the 
major prophets of our own day attribute to their con- 
solatory fancies a local habitation on our own planet 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


56 

and in future time. This modern habit of dreaming 
about the imaginary future is acclaimed as a sign of 
our superiority to our superstitious and backward- 
looking ancestors. Why, goodness only knows. The 
most aspiring of our superhuman Lsts is Mr. Bernard 
Shaw, who invites us, in Btick to Methuselah, to sliarc 
his raptures at the spectacle of a future Earth inhabited 
by sexless old monsters of mental and physical 
deformity. As usual, the highest turns out in a 
strange way to be the lowest. We aspire in circICvS, 
and when we imagine that we are most super- 
human we suddenly find ourselves below the beasts. 
Mr. Shaw's earthly paradise turns out to be a 
charnel-house. Under the galvanic stimulation of 
his wit the mummies fri.sk about like so many 
putrefied iambs; it is all very amusing, no doubt, 
but oh, how gruesome, how unspeakably horrible 1 
All Mr. Shaw's writing is dry and chilly, lifeless 
for all its appearance of twitching liveliness. In 
Back to Methuselah the bony rattling, the crackling 
disintegration of the mummied tissues are deafeningly 
loud. Inevitably; for Back to Methuselah is the most 
loftily idealistic, the most superhumanistic of all Mr. 
Shaw's plays. The highest is the lowest. 

My own feeling, whenever I see a book about the 
Future, is one of boredom and exasperation. What 
on earth is the point of troubling one's liead with 
speculations about what men may, but almost cer- 
tainly will not, be like in a. 0 . 20,000? The hypo- 
thetical superman can really be left to look after 
himself. Since he is, by definition, essentially dif- 
ferent from man, it is obvious that we can do nothing 
to accelerate or retard his coming. The only thing in 
our power is to do our best to be men, here and now. 
Let us think about the present, not the future. If 
we don't, there will very soon be no future to think 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


57 


about. Reduced by the very loftiness of their ambi- 
tions to a state of subhumanity, the aspiring super- 
men will have destroyed one another like so many 
mad dogs. Non-existence is futureless. 

The means by which men try to turn themselves 
into supermen are murderous. The great merit of the 
ideal of perfected humanity is that the realization of 
it can only be essayed by means that are life-giving, 
not life-destroying. For the perfected man is the 
complete man, the man in whom all the elements of 
human nature have been developed to the highest 
pitch compatible with the making and holding of a 
psychological harmony within the individual and an 
external social harmony between the individual and 
his fellows. The surgical-operation type of morality, 
which is the practical complement of the superhuman 
ideal, gives place, among those whose ambition it is 
to be consummately men, to a morality of living ad- 
justments, of tact and taste, of balanced ‘Contradic- 
tions. The ideal of consummate luimanity demands 
of those who accept it, not self-murder, but self- 
harmony. 

The prime mistake of Christian moralists and 
idealists has been to suppose that the human character 
is fundamentally consistent; or alternatively that, if 
it isn't in fact very consistent, it ought to be made 
so. As a matter of observable fact, human beings 
are fundamentally inconsistent. Men and women are 
seldom the same for more than a few hours or even a 
few minutes at a stretch. The soul is a kind of 
hydra-many as well as one, numerous in its unique- 
ness. A man is now one and now another of the 
hydra-heads within him. Such are the obvious facts 
of our daily experience. The High Moralists some- 
times deny these obvious facts, or else admit their 
existmee only to declare war on them. Man's true 



SPINOZA*S WORM 


58 

self, they assert, is the mental self ; the rest is illusory, 
accidental, unessential. These statements of fact are, 
of course, merely veiled expressions of desire, words 
of command in fancy dress. The indicative tense is 
really an imperative- When philosophers or moralists 
or theologians talk about * true ' selves, ‘ true ' Gods, 
' true ' as opposed to false virtues, doctrines, loves, 
and so forth, all they are doing is to express their 
own personal preferences. And conversely, words 
like ' accidental,' ‘ non-essential, ' illusory,' are gener- 
ally no more than the bad language of learned and 
pious men. Their position, their age, their cloth does 
not permit them to call their opponents bloody 
bastards, stinkers, or swine; they have to content 
themselves with more cumbrous and circumlocutory 
foims of abuse. Those, then, who deny the facts of 
human nature are only saying in a different and 
rather less honest way the same thing as those who 
admit but condemn them. Man is not consistent, hut 
he ought to be made so. For consistency, the con- 
sistency of unflagging spirituality, is one of the prin- 
cipal characteristics of that suj>erhuman being that it 
is man's duty to become. The soul must be reduced 
to singleness, violently — if necessary, surgically; all 
but one of the hydra's heads must be chopped off. 
So commands the superhumanist. The humanist, on 
the other hand, admits the equal right to existence of 
all the heads ; his preoccupation is to keep tlie whole 
collection, if not at peace (for that would be im- 
possible), at least in a condition of balanced hostility, 
of chronically indecisive warfare, in which the defeats 
are alternate and the victories impermanent. 

The humanist's system of morality is a consecration 
of the actual facts of life as men live it. He proceeds 
in the reverse direction from that taken by the super- 
humanist; for, instead of passing from the arbitrary 



SPINOZA^S WORM 


59 


imperative to the correspondingly fantastic indicative, 
he moves from the indicative of the observed and 
experienced facts to the imperative of a realistic 
morality and a rational legislation. 

' Homer was wrong/ wrote Heracleitus of Ephesus, 
* Homer was wrong in saying : Would that strife 
might perish from among gods and men I '' He did 
not see that he was praying for the destruction of the 
universe; for if his prayer were heard, all things 
would pass away/ These are words which the super- 
humanists should meditate. Aspiring towards a con- 
sistent perfection, they are aspiring towards annihila- 
tion, The Hindus had the wit to see and the courage 
to proclaim the fact ; Nirvana, the goal of their striv- 
ing, is nothingness. Wherever life exists, there also is 
inconsistency, division, strife. They are conspicuous 
even in the societies and individuals that accept the 
superhumanist ideal and are governed by the super- 
humanist ethic. Happily, as I have remarked before, 
this ideal has seldom been taken very seriously ; very 
few people have gone so far as to annihilate them- 
selves completely in the attempt to realize it. Almost 
all the superhumanists pursue their ideal by fits and 
starts, and only spasmodically obey the precepts of 
their ethic; in the intervals they live humanly or, 
more often, subhumanly; for the higher they go in 
their efforts to be overmen, the lower they sink, when 
the efforts are relaxed, towards a repulsive sub- 
humanity. At6 and Nemesis are real beings; their 
activities are daily observable. They are not, perhaps, 
quite so malignantly bent on punishing people who acci- 
dentally marry their mothers as the Greek tragedians 
seem to have supposed. Fate, in their tragedies, ton 
often degenerates from an inner organic necessity to an 
external mechanical one. Certain actions are conven- 
tionally bad ; certain penalties are attached to them, 
c 



6o 


SPINOZA^S WORM 


Wittingly or unwittingly, a man commits one of these 
actions. Flop 1 like a booby-trap, the suspended 
penalty comes down on his head. It is all very neat 
and mechanical, like a piece of the best clockwork; 
but it is not very real, it has nothing much to do with 
life. We laugh at the epigrammatist Meleager for 
telling the coy young Polyxenides to remember that 
time flies and that Nemesis, in the shape of uncomely 
age, will soon take vengeance on his all too smooth, 
his insolently lovely buttocks. But the idea is really 
less radically absurd than that which inspires (Edtpus 
Rex. To possess a pair of excessively lovely buttocks, 
and to be vainly and coquet tishiy conscious of possess- 
ing them, may easily constitute a genuine offence 
against the golden mean. Unwittingly to marry your 
mother is not a genuine outrage; it is merely an. 
accident. Nemesis is the principle of equilibrium. 
If you don't balance yourself, the Clods will do your 
balancing for you — and do it with a vengeance f The 
lives of the most ardent superhumanists bear ample 
witness to the jealousy of heaven. The Deus fmdensp 
as Horace calls the divine principle of mo<ieration, 
dislikes and punishes any exclusive or unbalanced 
excess. 

In practice, I repeat, the vast majority even of 
superhumanists live inconsistently. They are one 
thing in church and another out ; they believe in one 
way and act in another; they temper spirituality with 
fieshliness, virtue with sin, rationality with supersti- 
tion. If they did not, the races of the West would 
long since have ceased to exist. Single-mindedness 
may save men in the next world ; but in this there is 
certainly no salvation except in inconsistency. The 
superhumanists have saved themselves by not living 
up to their principles. But if this is so, objects the 
sociologist, why seek to change their principles? 



SPINOZA'S WORM 6i 

These people survive because they sometimes forget 
their principles, and they are restrained trom much 
socially undesirable behaviour because they some- 
times live up to them. There is no question of their 
beliefs being true or false in any absolute sense of the 
terms. So why, seeing that they have good social 
results, why object to these beliefs? The tree is to 
be judged by its fruits and by nothing else. Agreed; 
and it is precisely because the fruits are not good 
enough that I object to the tree. For though it is 
true that men continue to be humanly inconsistent 
even under a regime that idealizes a superhuman consis- 
tency of spirituality and conscious wilfulness, the fact 
of this idealization is harmful. It is harmful because 
those who take the ideal seriously (and the boldness, 
the very impossibility of the superhuman ambition 
attracts the men and women who are potentially the 
best) do vital damage not only to themselves, but also, 
by their precept and example, to their fellows. Even 
to those who do not take it with such a suicidal or 
murderous seriousness, the superhuman ideal is harm- 
ful. Their belief is not strong enough to prevent 
them from li ving inconsistently ; but it is strong enough 
to make them regard their inconsistencies as rather 
discreditable, to make them feel ashamed of all but 
one, or at most a few, out of all the hydra heads of 
their multifarious being. Their superhumanist mor- 
ality makes them condemn as sinful, or low, or de- 
grading, or at best trivial and unserious, the greater 
number of their normal activities. They do what 
their instincts command, but apologetically. They 
have remorse for their passions, and regret that their 
bodies are made of too too solid flesh. The result, 
naturally enough, is that the quality of their instinc- 
tive, passional, and physical life degenerates, Y ou can- 
not think badly of a thing without its becoming bad. 



62 


SPINOZA^S WORM 


' All the Gods ought to have praise given to 
them/ says Pausanias in the Symposium. AH — the 
common as well as the heavenly Aphrodite, Athena as 
well as Ares and Bacchus, Pan and Priapiis and the 
Satyrs no less than Artemis, Apollo, and the Muses. 
In other words, all the manifestations of life are god- 
like, and every element of human nature has a riglit — 
a divine right, even — to exist and find expression. 

That a stable society can be formed by men and 
women, who profess the worship of life in all its incon- 
sistent and contradictory manifestations, is a fact that 
can be demonstrated out of Greek liistory. Pericles 
in his funeral oration over the first victims of the 
Peloponnesian War has left an admirable description 
of fifth-century Athens. It was a place, he said (I 
paraphrase and abridge), where all could freely express 
their opinions on affairs of state ; where all were free, 
in domestic matters, to do what they liked; where 
nobody officiously interfered with other people's 
private lives, and no man’s personal amusements were 
ever counted against him as a crime. In tiieir private 
relationships the Athenians were free ; but in all that 
concerned the fatherland, a wholesome fear prevented 
them from playing false ; they obeyed the magistrates 
and the laws. The fatigues of public business were 
tempered by public entertainments and private amuse- 
ments, To the worshippers of barrack-room disci- 
pline — the repulsive brood is still with us — Pericles 
replied with a comparison between Athenians and 
Spartans. The Spartans * toil from early boyhood in 
a laborious pursuit after courage, while we, free to 
live and wander as we please, march out none the less 
to face the self-same dangers. If we choose to face 
dangers with an easy mind, rather than after rigorous 
training, and to trust rather in native manhood than 
in state-made courage, the advantage lies with u$; 



SPINOZA^S WORM 


63 


for we are spared all the weariness of practising for 
future hardships, and when we find ourselves among 
them we are as brave as our plodding rivals.’ These 
were not the only titles to men’s admiration that the 
Athenians could show. ' We are • lovers of beauty 
without extravagance and of wisdom without un- 
manliness. Our citizens attend to both private and 
public duties, and do not allow absorption in their 
own affairs to interfere with their knowledge of the 
city’s/ The only defect in this description is that it 
is too sober, insufficiently emphatic — at any rate for 
us, to whom everything that Pericles took for granted 
is utterly foreign. How foreign, few even of those 
who have had a sound classical education, even of 
professional scholars, seem ever to realize. The un- 
awareness is at bottom voluntary. We do not really 
want to realize the full extent of the difference between 
the Greek world-view, the Greek way of life, and our 
own. For most of us the realization would be too 
disturbing; so we shut our eyes on all that would 
force it upon us and continue to visualize the Greeks, 
if we visualize them at all (which a great many very 
estimable scholars never do, preferring to pursue their 
studies in the abstract, as though the Hellenic world 
were nothing but a complicated series of algebraical 
equations), as a race of very nice, handsome, and 
intelligent English public-school boys. But in fact 
the Greeks were neither nice nor boyish. They were 
men — men how incomparably completer and more 
adult than the decayed or fossil children who, at our 
Universities, profess themselves the guardians of the 
Greek tradition I And their behaviour, according to 
our standards, was very frequently outrageous and 
disgusting. 

What Pericles took for granted was briefly this : 
that men should accept their natures as they found 



64 


SPINOZA^S WORM 


them. Man has a mind : very well, let him think. 
Senses that enjoy : let him be sensual. Instincts : 
they are there to be satisfied. Passions : it does a 
man good to succumb to them from time to time. 
Imagination, a feeling for beauty, a sense of awe : 
let him create, let him surround himself with lovely 
forms, let him worship. Man is multifarious, in- 
consistent, self-contradictory; the Greeks accepted 
the fact and lived multifariously, inconsistently, and 
contradictorily. Their polytheism gave divine sanc- 
tion to this realistic acceptance. ' All the Gods 
ought to have praise given to them.' There was 
therefore no need for remorse or the consciotisncss of 
sin. The preservation of the unstable equilibrium 
between so many mutually hostile elements was a 
matter of tact and common-sense and aesthetic judg- 
ment. At the same time the habits of patriotic 
devotion and obedience to the laws acted powerfully 
as a restraining and moderating force. More power- 
fully, perhaps, than with us. For the liberty of the 
Ancients was not the same as ours. So far as their 
private lives, their domestic relations, were concerned, 
it was complete; but in regard to the state it was 
strictly limited. It never occurred to a Greek to claim 
the modern individualist's anarchic licences. As a 
citizen he felt that he owed himself and all he possessed 
to the city. This sentiment was still strong enough, 
even in the last centuries of the Roman Empire, to 
make it possible for the Emperors to demand from 
their more prosperous subjects the most inordinate 
sacrifices in money, time, and trouble. At the be- 
ginning of the fourth century the laborious and ex- 
pensive honours of senatorial office in the provinces 
were made compulsory and hereditary, Tlxe unhappy 
magistrates and ah their posterity were condemned 
to a kind of endless penal servitude and perpetual 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


65 


fine — to a hereditary punishment, of which the only 
foreseeable term was either the total extinction or 
else the irremediable ruin of the family. No modern 
ruler could demand such sacrifices of his subjects; 
the attempt would provoke an immediate revolution. 
The Romans of the fourth century resigned themselves ; 
they were citizens, and they knew that it was the 
business of the citizen to pay. That the traditions 
of good citizenship are not enough of themselves to 
keep the man (as opposed to the citizen) well balanced 
and harmonized is demonstrated by the history of the 
Romans. Devoid, as they were, of aesthetic tact and 
judgment, lacking the Greek's fine sense of proportion 
and harmony, the Romans lapsed, as soon as they bad 
made themselves masters of the world, into a condition 
of the most repulsive moral squalor. Like the Spar- 
tans, they were only virtuous in the barrack-room. 

The Greeks, then, were realists. They recognized 
the fact of human inconsistency and suited their 
religion, their morality, their social organization to 
it. We should do well to follow their example. In- 
deed, the modern circumstances make it imperative 
that we should raise our moral inconsistency to the 
rank of a principle ; for the modern circumstances are 
so hostile to man's multifarious life that, unless we 
insist on our diversity, we run the risk of being killed 
by them. 

What are these dangers that threaten our world? 
And how would the Greeks have guarded against them ? 

Of monotheism and the menace of the super- 
humanist ideal I have already spoken. The Greeks, 
as I have shown, aspired to be, not supermen, but 
men — that is to say, multifarious creatures living in 
a state of balanced hostility between their component 
elements — ^and they regarded aU the manifestations 
of life as divine. 



66 


SPINOZA'S WORM 


The worship of success and efficiency constitutes 
another menace to our world. What our ancestors 
sacrificed on the altars of Spirituality, we sacrificed 
on those of the Bitch Goddess and Taylorism, The 
work of Weber, Tawney, and other contemporary 
historians has clearly shown the part played by the 
Reformation and Protestantism in the propagation of 
success-worship. The Protestants believed in the Bible 
and Predestination, Most of the Bible is about the 
ancient Hebrews, who did not believe in the im- 
mortality of the soul and considered that virtue was, 
or at any rate ought to be, rewarded in this world by 
an increase of this world's goods. Calvinistic pre- 
destination teaches that Grace is everything, and that 
works — especially those works most highly praised 
by mediaeval theologians, such as contemplation, 
learning, ascetic practices, and charity — are nothing. 
Grace might be found as easily in the successful 
business man as in the contemplative ascetic. More 
easily, indeed. For the fact that the business man 
was successful proved, according to Old Testament 
notions, that God was on his side ; and God was on 
his side because he was virtuous. The disinterested, 
contemplative, charitable man was hopelessly un- 
successful. God, therefore, must hate him. Why? 
Because he was wicked. By the beginning of the 
eighteenth century and in the best Protestant circles, 
true goodness was measured in terms of cash. Medi- 
aeval spirituality was certainly deplorable; but still 
more deplorable is modern success-worship. If a 
man must commit partial suicide, it is better that he 
should do so in the name of disinterestedness, of 
contemplation and charity, than in that of money and 
comfort. Asceticism for the love of God is bad 
enough ; * asceticism for the love of Mammon Is 
intolerable. But it is for the love of Mammon that 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


67 

our modem stoics exhort us to mortify our fiesh and 
control our passions. Thus, Big Business ^supports 
prohibition because, in Mr. Ford's words, we must 
choose between drink and industrialism ; because, in 
Mr. Gary's, drink and prosperity are incompatible. 
Industrialism would work still more efficiently, 
prosperity would be even greater, if we could prohibit, 
not only whisky, but also sex and science, the love of 
knowledge and the love of women, creative imagina- 
tion and creative desire. Deprived of all their dis- 
tractions, shut out from all their private paradises, 
men would work almost as well as machines. The 
one legitimate desire left them would be a desire for 
things — for all the countless unnecessary things, the 
possession of which constitutes prosperity. We 
should be grateful to Protestantism for having helped, 
entirely against the wishes and intentions of its 
founders, to emancipate the human mind. But let 
us not forget to hate it for having degraded all the 
ancient standards of value, for having sanctified 
wealth and put a halo on the head of the Pharisee. 
The Reformers pulled down the Virgin Mary, but they 
stuck the Bitch Goddess in her place. I am not, 
personally, a great enthusiast for virgins; but I 
prefer them, on the whole, to bitches. FauU de 
mimx* But something better does exist. What 
we need is a new Reformation, a Hellenic Reformation 
made by men with the sense to see that there is a 
happy mean between bitcheiy and virginity, that the 
legitimate occupant of the shrine is neither the one 
nor the other, but Aphrodite or the Great Mother, 
The Greeks were neither k Kempises nor Smileses. 
They refused to sacrifice the body to the spirit ; but 
even more emphatically they refused to sacrifice both 
body and spirit to the Bitch Goddess. 

The third of the great modem menaces to life, the 



68 


SPINOZA’S WORM 


root of many widely ramifying evils, is the machine. 
The machine is dangerous because it is not only a 
labour-saver, but also a creation-saver. Creative 
work, of however humble a kind, is the source of man’s 
most solid, least transitory happiness. The machine 
robs the majority of human beings of the very possi- 
bility of this happiness. Leisure has now been almost 
as completely mechanized as labour. Men no longer 
amuse themselves, creatively, but sit and are passively 
amused by mechanical devices. Machinery condemns 
one of the most vital needs of humanity to a frustration 
which the progress of invention can only render more 
and more complete. But, though harmful, tlie use 
of machinery cannot be discontinued. Simple-lifers, 
like Tolstoy and Gandhi, ignore the most obvious 
facts. Chief among these is the fact that machineiy, 
by increasing production, has permitted an increase 
of population. There are twice as many imman 
beings to-day as there were a lumdred years ago* 
The existence of this increased population is dc|>endent 
on the existence of modern machinery. If we scrap 
the machinery, we kill at least half the population. 
When Gandhi advocates the return to handicrafts, 
he is advocating the condemnation to death of 
about nine hundred million human beings. Tam- 
burlane’s butcheries are insignificant compared with 
the cosmic massacre so earnestly advocated by our 
mild and graminivorous Mahatma. No, the slaughter 
of nine hundred million human beings is not a piece of 
practical politics. The machines must stay: it is 
obvious. They must stay, even though, used as 
they are now being used, they inflict on humanity an 
enormous psychological injury that must, if uncared 
for, prove mortal. The only remedy is systematic 
inconsistency. The life-quenching work at machine 
or desk must be regarded as a necessary evil to 'be 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


69 


compensated for by the creative labours or amuse- 
ments of leisure. But most contemporary leisures, 
as we have already seen, are as completely dominated 
by the creation-saving machine as most contemporary 
work. Before leisure can be made to serve as an 
antidote to life-destroying work it must be de- 
mechanized. The task will prove by no means easy. 
Leisure can only be de-mechanized if a general desire 
for its de-mechanization is first created. Power- 
ful forces oppose, from within and without, the 
creation of this desire. From within come laziness 
and the psychological vis inerticB that is the life of 
habits. Men find it easier to let themselves be 
passively amused than to go out and create. True, 
creation is interesting and passivity profoundly 
boring. But even boring effortlessness is a luxury, 
and a habit of idleness, however life-destroying, is 
difficult to break. Passivity and subservience to 
machinery blunt the desire and diminish the power to 
create; pursuing the ideal of superhuman business 
efficiency, men mutilate the imaginative and in- 
stinctive side of their natures. The result is that 
they lose their sense of values, their taste and judgment 
become corrupted, and they have an irresistible 
tendency to love the lowest when they see it. The 
lowest is copiously provided by the film-makers, the 
newspaper proprietors, the broadcasters, and all the 
rest. And though this love of the lowest is mixed 
with an indescribable ennui, it will resist any at- 
tempt to remove its debased and dismal object. This 
resistance is encouraged by those who have a financial 
interest in the providing of standardized creation- 
saving entertainments for the masses. The sums 
invested in the amusement industry are enormous; 
creation-saving has become a vested interest of the 
first magnitude. If men were to take to amusing 



70 


SPINOZA^S WORM 


themselves instead of suffering themselves to be 
passively amused, millions upon millions of capital 
would be lost. Any attempt to do so is therefore 
resisted. The propaganda in favour of the creation- 
saving amusements is unflagging and dreadfully 
effective — for it is our unenviable distinction to have 
brought the ancient arts of lying and sophistry and 
persuasion to what would seem an absolute perfection. 
In every newspaper and magazine, from every 
hoarding, on the screen of every picture-palace, the 
same assertions are endlessly repeated : that there 
are no amusements outside those provided by the 
great creation-saving companies; that the height of 
human happiness is to sit and be passively entertained 
by machines, and that those who do not submit to 
this process of entertainment are not merely to be 
pitied as miserable, but to be despised as old-fash ioned 
provincial boobies. In the teeth of this propaganda 
it will clearly be difflcult to create a desire for the 
de-mechanization of leisure. But unless such a 
desire is created, the races of the industrialized West 
are doomed, it seems to me, to self-destruction — to a 
kind of suicide while of unsound mind. The first 
symptoms of mass insanity are everywhere apparent. 
A few years more, and the patient will be raving and 
violent. The preaching, the organizing, the practising 
of inconsistency are matters of the most rudimentary 
political expediency. The statesmanship of the 
immediate future will be concerned (if it is good 
statesmanship) above all with questions of psychology 
' -with the relations between the individual and his 
mrroundings, and of the component parts of the 
pdividuai with one another. Political economy, the 
Dalance of power, the organization of government, 
will become matters of secondary importance. Inevi- 
tably; for an answered riddle ceases to perplex. 



SPINOZA'S WORM 


71 


The old political riddles are not, indeed, answered; 
but they are at least showing signs that they are 
answerable. Thus the problems connected with the 
distribution of wealth, supposed at one time to be 
soluble only by revolutionary methods, are now in 
process of being peacefully liquidated. For the 
capitalists have found that it pays them to keep 
the standard of life as high as possible. So long as the 
planetary resources hold out, the mass-producers will 
do their best to make everybody more and more 
prosperous. National rivalry is still a source of 
grave dangers; the War to end War was concluded 
by a Peace most beautifully calculated to end peace. 
But meanwhile capitalism is becoming more and more 
international ; it pays Big Business to avoid War. 
Peace on earth and good will among men are the 
soundest of sound investments. If only, on the first 
Christmas Day, the angels had taken the trouble to 
tell us so I As for the problems of government, they 
are not solved, and they can never be definitely solved, 
for the simple reason that societies change, and that 
the forms of government must change with them. 
There is no absolutely right kind of government. 
Men have at last come to realize this simple but 
important fact, with the result that, for the first time 
in history, the problems of government can be dis- 
cussed in a relatively scientific and rational spirit. 
Even the divine rights of parliamentarism and political 
democracy can now be questioned with impunity. 
Ever since the world was made safe for it, democracy 
has steadily been losing its prestige. People feel a 
great deal less fanatically about Liberty, Equality,, 
Fraternity than they did even a generation ago; 
they are ready to approach the problem of govern- 
ment in almost the same detached and irreligious 
spirit as that in which they now approach the exactly 



72 


SPINOZA'S WORIVI 


analogous problem of repairing the radio set or build- 
ing a house. To have adopted this attitude towards 
the problem is to have gone haif-way towards its 
solution. 

No, the old political issues have receded into relative 
unimportance. The vital problem of our age is the 
problem of reconciling manhood with the citizenship 
of a modern industrialized state. The modern Good 
Citizen, who is nothing more than a Good Citizen, is 
less than human, an imbecile or a lunatic — dangerous 
to himself and to the society in which he lives. In 
the existing industrial circumstances he can only be a 
man out of business hours. He must live two livc.s — 
or rather one life and one automatic simulation of life. 
Religion, philosophy, politics, and ethics must con- 
spire to impose on him a double inconsistency — as 
between man and citizen in the first place, and, in 
the second, as between the various component ele- 
ments of the man. The present attempt to impose a 
superhuman consistency, whether of spirituality, of 
intellect, of mechanical efficiency, results in the 
imposition of subhuman insanity. From madness in 
the long-run comes destruction. It is only by cul- 
tivating his humanity that man can hope to save him- 
self. The difficulties of the task, as we have seen, are 
enormously great. But so are the penalties of failure. 
Spinoza *s little worm has the choice of desperately 
attempting to remain a Httie worm, or of ceasing to 
exist. 



SWIFT 


' The Queen,' writes Swift in one of liis letters to 
Stella, ' the Queen is well, but I fear she will be no 
long liver ; for I am told she has sometimes the gout 
in her bowels (I hate the word bowels).' Yes, how he 
hated it ! And not the word only — the things too, the 
harmless necessary tripes — he loathed and detested 
them with an intensity of hatred such as few men 
have ever been capable of. It was unbearable to 
him that men should go through life with guts and 
sweet-breads, with livers and lights, spleens and 
kidneys. That human beings should have to get rid 
of the waste products of metabolism and digestion 
was for Swift a source of excruciating suffering. And 
if the Yahoos were all his personal enemies, that 
was chiefly because they smelt of sweat and excrement, 
because they had genital organs and dugs, groins and 
hairy armpits; their moral shortcomings were of 
secondary importance. Swift's poems about women 
are more ferocious even than his prose about the 
Yahoos; his resentment against women for being 
warm-blooded mammifers was incredibly bitter. 
Read (with a bottle of smelling-salts handy, if you 
happen to be delicately stomached) * The Lady's 
Dressing-Room/ ' Cassinus and Peter,' ‘ A Beautiful 
Yoxmg Nymph going to Bed/ Here is a moderately 
haracteristic sample : 

And first a dirty smock appeared. 

Beneath the armpits well besmeared . . . 

But oh I it turned ^or Stephen*s bowels. 

When he beheld and smelt the towels, 

73 



74 


SWIFT 


Begummed, besmattered, and beslimed. 

With dirt and sweat and earwax grimed. 

Passing from description to philosophical reflection, 
we find such lines as these : 

His foul imagination links 

Each dame he sees with all her stinks ; 

And if unsavoury odours hy. 

Conceives a lady standing by. 

Nor can I refrain from mentioning that line, which 
Swift thought so much of that he made it the cul- 
mination of two several poems : 

Oh, Celia, Celia, Celia ... I 

The monosyllabic verb, which t!ie modesties of to- 
day win not allow me to reprint, rhymes with ' wits ' 
and ' fits." 

Swift must have 'hated the word bowels' to the 
verge of insanity : nothing short of the most violent 
love or the intensest loathing could possibly account 
for so obsessive a preoccupation with the visceral and 
excrementitious subject. Most of us dislike bad smells 
and offal ; but so mildly that, unless they are actually 
forced upon our senses, we seldom think of them. 
Swift hated bowels with such a passionate abhorrence 
that he felt a perverse compulsion to bathe continually 
in the squelchy imagination of them. Human 
beings are always fascinated by what horrifies and 
disgusts them. The reasons are obscure and doubtless 
complicated. One of the sources of tliis apparent 
perversity is surely to be found in the almost universal 
craving for excitement. Life, for most people, is a 
monotonous afiair; they want to be thrilled, stimu- 
lated, excited, almost at ah costs- The horrifying and 
disgusting are sources of strong emotion ; therefore 



SWIFT 


75 


the horrifying and disgusting are pursued as goods. 
Most of us, I suppose, enjoy disgust and horror, at 
any rate in small doses. But we fairly quickly reach a 
point where the enjoyment turns into pain; when 
this happens we naturally do our best to avoid the 
source of the painful emotions. But there are at least 
two classes of people who are ready voluntarily to 
continue the pursuit of horrors and disgustfulnesses 
long after the majority of their fellows have begun to 
shrink from a pleasure which has become an intolerable 
pain. In the first class we find the congenitally 
insensitive — those who can be excited only by a 
relatively enormous stimulus. The extreme case is 
that of certain idiots for whom a surgical operation 
without anaesthetics is a real pleasure. Under the 
knife and the cautery they begin at last to feel. 
Between this extreme of insensitiveness and the 
statistical normal there is no hiatus, but a continuous 
series of graded types, for all of whom the normal 
stimulus is to a greater or less degree inadequate. 
To the congenitally insensitive we must add those 
whose normal sensitiveness has, for one reason or 
another, decreased during the course of life. A 
familiar type is that of the ageing debauchee, habitu- 
ated to a continuous excitement, but so much ex- 
hausted by his mode of life, so blunted and hardened, 
that he can only be excited by a more than normally 
powerful stimulus. Such insensitives can stomach 
doses of horror and disgust which would be mortal to 
the ordinary man. 

But the insensitives are not the only lovers of 
horror and disgust. There is another class of men 
and women, often more than ordinarily sensitive, who 
deliberately seek out what pains and nauseates them 
for the sake of the extraordinary pleasure they derive 
from the overcoming of their repulsion. Take the 



76 


SWIFT 


case, for example, of the mystical Mme. Guyon, who 
felt that her repugnance for unclean and unsavoury 
objects was a weakness disgraceful in one who lived 
only for and with God. One day she determined to 
overcome this weakness, and, seeing on the ground a 
particularly revolting gob of phlegm and spittle, she 
picked it up and, in spite of intolerable retchings of 
disgust, put it in her mouth. Her nauseated horror 
was succeeded by a sentiment of joy, of prcjfound 
exultation. A similar incident may be found in the 
biography of St. Francis of Assisi. Almost the first 
act of his religious life was to kiss the piistulent hand 
of one of those lepers, the sight and smell of whom had, 
up till that time, sickened him with disgust. Like 
Mme. Guyon, he was rewarded for his pains with a 
feeling of rapturous happiness. Even the most 
unsaintly people have felt the glow of satisfaction 
which follows the accomplishment of some act in the 
teeth of an instinctive resistance. The pl(‘asure of 
asserting the conscious will against one of those dark 
instinctive forces which consciousness rightly regards 
as its enemies, is for many people, and in certain 
circumstances, more than sufficient to outweigh the 
pain caused by the thwarting of the instinct. Our 
minds, like our bodies, are colonies of separate lives, 
existing in a state of chronically hostile symbiosis; 
the soul is in reality a great conglomeration of souls, 
the product of whose endless warfare at any given 
moment is our behaviour at that moment. The 
pleasures attending the victory of conscious will 
have a special quality of their own, a quality which, 
for many temperaments, makes them preferable to 
any other kind of pleasure. Nietzsche advised men to 
be cruel to themselves, not because asceticism was 
pleasing to some hypothetical god, but because it was 
a good spiritual exercise, because it wound up the 



SWIFT 


77 


will and enhanced the sense of power and of conscious, 
voluntary life. To this delightful enhancement of 
the sense of power the believer, whose conscious will is 
fighting for what is imagined to be an absolute good, 
can add the no less delightful sense of being virtuous, 
the pleasing consciousness that he is pleasing God. 
Mme. Guy on and St. Francis probably did not ex- 
aggerate when they described in such rapturous 
terms the joy evoked in them by their voluntary 
wallowings in filth. 

Swift — to return from a long digression — Swift 
belonged, it seems to me, to a sub-species of the 
second category of horror-lovers. He was not one of 
those insensitives who can only respond to the most 
violent stimuli. On the contrary, he seems to have 
been more than normally sensitive. His * hatred of 
bowels ' was the rationalization of an intense disgust. 
Wliy, then, did he pore so lingeringly on what revolted 
him ? What was his reward ? Was it the Nietzschean 
enhancement of the sense of power? Or was it the 
Christian's happy consciousness of pleasing God by 
the conquest of a weakness? No, it was certainly 
not for the love of God that the Dean of St. Patrick's 
humiliated himself in the excrement and ofial. Was 
it, then, for love of himself, for the pleasure of asserting 
his will ? A little, perhaps. But his real reward was 
the pain he sufiered. He felt a compulsion to remind 
himself of his hatred of bowels, just as a man with a 
wound or an aching tooth feels a compulsion to 
touch the source of his pain — to make sure that it is 
still there and still agonizing. With Swift, it was not 
a case of the pleasure of self-assertion outweighing 
the pain of voluntarily-evoked disgust. For him the 
pain was the pleasure, or, at any rate, it was the desir- 
able end towards which his activities were directed. 
He wished to sufier. 



78 


SWIFT 


Smft's greatness lies in the intensity, the almost 
insane violence of that ^ hatred of bowels ' which is 
the essence of his misanthropy and which underlies 
the whole of his work. As a doctrine, a philosophy 
of life, this misanthropy is profoundly silly. Like 
Shelley's apocalyptic philanthropy, it is a protest 
against reality, childish (for it is only the child who 
refuses to accept the order of things), like all such 
protests, from the fairy story to the socialist's Utopia. 
Regarded as a political pamphlet or the expression of a 
world-view, Gulliver is as preposterous as Prometheus 
Unbound. Regarded as works of art, as independent 
universes of discourse existing on their own authority, 
like geometries harmoniously developed from a set 
of arbitrarily chosen axioms, they are almost equally 
admirable. What interests me here, however, is the 
relation of these two works to the reality outside 
themselves, not the inward, formal relation of their 
component parts with one another. Considered, then, 
merely as comments on reality, Gulliver and Pronieth^ 
eus are seen, for all their astonishing difference, to 
have a common origin — the refusal on the part of their 
authors to accept the physical reality of the world. 
Shelley's refusal to accept the given reality took 
the form of a lyrical and prophetic escape into the 
Golden Age that is to be when kings and priests have 
been destroyed and the worship of abstractions and 
metaphysical absolutes is substituted for that of the 
existing gods. Swift, on the contrary, made no 
attempt to escape, but remained earth-bound, rubbing 
his nose in all those aspects of physical reality which 
most distressed him. His Houyhnhnm Utopia was 
not one of those artificial paradises which men have 
fabricated (out of such diverse materials as religious 
myths, novels, and whisky) as a refuge from a world 
with which they were unable to cope. He was not 



SWIFT 


79 


like that Old Person of Bazing in Edward Lear's 
rhyme, who 

purchased a steed 
Which he rode at fuU speed 
To escape from the people of Bazing. 

Swift's horse was not a means of transport into an- 
other and better world. A winged angel would have 
served that purpose better. If he " purchased a 
steed/ it was in order that he might shame the dis- 
gusting Y ahoos by parading its superiority. For Swift, 
the charm of the country of the Houhynhnms con- 
sisted, not in the beauty and virtue of the horses, but 
in the foulness of the degraded men. 

When we look into the matter we find that the 
great, the unforgivable sin of the Yahoos consisted in 
the fact that they possessed bowels. Like so many of 
the Fathers of the Church, Swift could not forgive 
men and women for being vertebrate mammals as 
well as immortal souls. He could not forgive them, 
in a word, for actually existing. It is unnecessary for 
me to insist at length on the absurdity, the childish 
silliness, of this refusal to accept the universe as it 
is given. Abstractions are made from reality and 
labelled soul, spirit, and so forth ; reality is then hated 
for not resembling these arbitrary abstractions from 
its total mass. It would be as sensible to hate flowers 
for not resembling the liquid perfume which can be 
distilled from them. A yet greater, but no less 
common, childishness is to hate reality because it 
does not resemble the fairy stories which men have 
invented to console themselves for the discomforts 
and difficulties of daily life, or to hate it because life 
does not seem to hold the significance which a favourite 
author happens to have attributed to it. Ivan ICara^* 
mazov returning God his entrance ticket to life is a 
characteristic example of this last form of childishness. 



So SWIFT 

Ivan is distressed because the real tini\^crse bears so 
little resemblance to the providential machme of 
Christian theology, distressed because he can iind no 
meaning or purpose in life. But the purpose of life, 
outside the mere continuance of living (already a most 
noble and beautiful end), is the purpose we put into 
it : its meaning is whatever we may ciioosc to c;di 
the meaning. Life is not a cross-word puzzle, with 
an answer settled in advance and a prize for the 
ingenious person who noses it out. The riddle of 
the universe has as many answers as the universe 
has living inhabitants. Each answer is a wot king 
hypothesis, in terms of which the answerer exp<*rinit‘nls 
with reality. The best answers are those which j>cr- 
mit the answ^erer to live most fully, the worst are 
those which condemn him to partial or complc^te death. 
The most fantastic answers will serve their turn as 
working hypotheses. Thus, certain primitive peoples 
are convinced that they arc blood brothers to croco* 
diles or parrots, and live in accordance with their 
belief — most efficiently, according to all accounts. 
We smile at their philosophy. But is it more ridicu- 
lous, after all, than that which teaches that men 
are brothers, not to parrots, but to imaginary angels ? 
Or that an abstraction called the soul is the essential 
reality of human nature, and the body is hardly more 
than an accident, an evil accident at that ? 

Of the possible reasons for Swift's insensate hatred 
of bowels I will say more later. It was a liatred 
to which, of course, he had a perfect riglit. 
Every man has an inalienable right to the psycho- 
logical major premiss of his philosophy of life, just 
as every man has an alienable right to his own liver. 
But his liver may be a bad liver : it may make him 
sluggish, ill-tempered, despairingly melancholy. It 
may, in a word, be a hindrance to living instead of a 



SWIFT 


8i 


help. It is the same with a philosophy of life. Every 
man has a right to look at the world as he chooses; 
but his world-view may be a bad one — a hindrance, 
like the defective liver, instead of a help to living. 
Judged by these standards, the Swiftian world-view is 
obviously bad. To hate bowels, to hate the body 
and all its ways, as Swift hated them, is to hate at 
least half of man's entire vital activity. It is im- 
possible to live completely without accepting life as 
a whole in all its manifestations. Swift's prodigious 
powers were marshalled on the side of death, not life. 
How instructive, in this context, is the comparison 
with Rabelais ! Both men were scatological writers. 
Mass for mass, there is probably more dung and offal 
piled up in Rabelais' work than in Swift's. But 
how pleasant is the dung through which Gargantua 
wades, how almost delectable the ohal ! The muck 
is transfigured by love ; for Rabelais loved the bowels 
which Swift so malignantly hated. His was the true 
amor fati : he accepted reality in its entirety, accepted 
with gratitude and delight this amazingly improbable 
world, where flowers spring from manure, and 
reverent Fathers of the Church, as in Harington's 
Metamorphosis of Ajax, meditate on the divine 
mysteries while seated on the privy; where the 
singers of the most mystically spiritual love, such as 
Dante, Petrarch, and Cavalcanti, have wives and 
rows of children ; and where the violences of animal 
passion can give birth to sentiments of the most 
exquisite tenderness and refinement. In this most 
beautiful, ridiculous, and tragic world Swift has no 
part : he is shut out from it by hatred, by his childish 
resentment against reality for not being entirely dif- 
ferent from what, in fact, it is. That the lovely Celia 
should obey the call of nature like any cow or camel, 
is for Swift a real disaster. The wise and scientific 



Sz 


SWIFT 


Rabelaisian, on the other hand, would be distressed if 
she did not obey them, would prescribe a visit to Carls- 
bad or Montecatini. Swift would have liked Celia to be 
as bodiless as an abstraction : he was furious with her 
for being solid and healthy. One is amazed that a 
grown man should feel and think in a manner so 
essentially childish. That the hatred of bowels should 
have been the major premiss of his philosophy when 
Swift was fifteen is comprehensible, but tliat it should 
have remained the major premiss when he was forty 
requires some explanation. 

At this distance of time and with only the most 
inadequate evidence on which to go, we cannot 
hope to explain with certainty : the best we can do 
is to hazard a guess, to suggest a possible hypothesis. 
That which I would suggest — and doubtless it has been 
suggested before — is that Swift's hatred of bowels was 
obscurely, but none the less closely, connected with 
that * temperamental coldness ' which Sir Leslie 
Stephen attributes to the mysterious lover of Stella 
and Vanessa. That any man with a normal dosage of 
sexuality could have behaved quite so oddly as Swift 
behaved towards the women he loved seems certainly 
unlikely. We are almost forced by the surviving 
evidence to believe that some physical or psychological 
impediment debarred him from making love in the 
ordinary, the all too human manner. Now, when a 
man is not actually, or at any rate potentially, all too 
human, he does not for that reason become suiter- 
human : on the contrary, he tends to become sub- 
human. Subhumanly silly, as Kant was silly in tlie 
intervals of writing the superhuman Cniiqm of 
Fure Reason; or subhumanly malignant, as the too 
virtuous Calvin was malignant. Cut off by some 
accident of body or character from the beautiful and 
humorous, the rather absurd but sacred, but subhma 



SWIFT 


S3 


and marvellous world of carnal passion and tenderness 
(and lacking the aid of the flesh, the spirit must remain 
for ever ignorant of the highest, the profoundest, the 
intensest forms of love). Swift was prevented from 
growing to full human maturity. Remaining sub- 
humanly childish, he continued all his life to resent 
reality for not resembling the abstractions and fairy- 
tale compensations of the philosophers and theologians. 
At the same time his separation from the human world, 
his sense of solitude, developed in him something of the 
subhuman malignity, the hate, the envious * righteous 
indignation * of the Puritan. The reverse of this 
ferocious hater was, as so often happens, a sentimental- 
ist — a sentimentalist, moreover, of the worst kind; 
for, in the writer of the baby-language which fills so 
much space in Swift's Journal to Stella, we see that 
most abject and repulsive type of sentimentalist (a 
type, it may be added, exceedingly common at the 
present time), the adult man who deliberately mimics 
the attitudes of childhood. The character of the age 
in which Swift lived was hard and virile : machinery, 
Taylorization, the highly-organized division of labour, 
specialization, and humanitarianism had not yet 
begun to produce their dehumanizing effects. In the 
England of the early seventeen-hundreds, Swift was 
ashamed of his infantility. His baby-language was a 
secret between himself and the two * sweet rogues ' 
to whom he wrote his letters. In public he revealed 
only the Puritan, the Father-of-the-Church side of 
him—the respectably misanthropical obverse of the 
infantile medal. If he had lived two hundred years 
later in our routine-ridden, mechanized world of 
flabbily subhuman sentimentalists, he would not have 
been ashamed of his infantility : on the contrary, he 
would have been proud. His angers and his hatreds 
are what he wotfld have hidden from the modem 



SWIFT 


84 

public. If Swift were alive to~clay» lie would be the 
adored, the baroneted, the Order-of-Merited author, 
not of Gulliver, not of The Tale of a Tub, not of the 
Advice to Servants, not of 2" he Lady^s Dressing-Room, 
but of A Kiss for Cinderella and Peter Pan, 



PARADISE 


Between the road and the sea a grove of palms bore 
imimpeachaWe witness to the mildness of the climate. 
Exotic — their leaves a plume of gigantic parrot's 
feathers, each trunk an elephant's hind leg — they 
guaranteed us against all Northern inclemencies. 
The vegetable cannot lie. Or so one obstinately 
goes on believing, in spite of the bananas that almost 
ripen at Pcnxance, the bamboos that wave in the 
March wind, as though Surrey were the Malay Penin- 
sula. ' No deception, ladies and gentlemen,' the 
palm-trees seemed to say. And, indeed, that was 
what they were there to say : what an astute town 
council, when it planted them, had intended them to 
say, ^ No deception. The climate of the Mediterranean 
is genuinely sub-tropical/ After a bout of influenza, 
sub-tropicality was just what I needed : was what, so 
far, I had been looking for in vain. We had driven 
all day along a rain-blurred, wind-buffeted Riviera. 
A cold, fatigtiing journey that might have been 
through Scotland. But now the gale had dropped, 
the evening was crystalline. Those palm-trees in the 
level sunliglit were like a Bible picture of the Promised 
Land. And the hotel that looked out over their 
green tops to the sea was called the H6tel Paradiso* 
That settled it- We decided to stop — for weeks, if 
necessary; till I felt perfectly well again. 

Paradise began by giving us a surprise- One does 
not expect to find, in the hall of an Italian hotel, a 
group of middle-aged English ladies dressed as female 
Pierrots, geishas, and Welsh peasants. But there 
S5 



86 


PARADISE 


they were, when we went to inquire about rooms, high 
hats, kimonos and all, chatting in the most animated 
manner with a young clergyman, whose clerical- 
Oxonian accent (' he that hath eeyars to heeyar, let 
him heeyar ') and whose laughter (that too too merry 
laughter of clergymen who want to prove that, 
malgri tout, they can be good fellows) were a joy to 
hear. 

A handbill posted on the porter's desk explained 
the mystery. Somewhat belatedly — for Lent was 
already ten days old — the town was celebrating Carni- 
val. We read, in that magniloquent Italian style, 
of grandiose processions, allegorical cars, huge prizes 
for the best costumes, sportive manifestations in the 
shape of bicycle races, masked balls. The geishas and 
the Welsh colleens (or are they something else in 
Wales ?) were immediately accounted for. And 
perhaps, I thought for a moment, perhaps the clergy- 
man was also a masker. The stage curate is an old 
favourite. But listening again to the voice, the 
merry, merry laughter, I knew that no sacrilege Iiad 
been committed. The sable uniform was certainly 
not a fancy dress. 

Before dinner we took a stroll through the town — ^ 
only to discover that the town did not exist. True, 
there were houses enough, hundreds of white stucco 
boxes, all very new and neat. Bricks and mortar 
in plenty, but no people. The houses were all 
shuttered and empty. In summer, during the bathing 
season, they would doubtless be tenanted. The town' 
would come to life. But at this season it was a 
corpse. We looked for the ceniro dtUa ciUd ; in vain, 
the city had no centre. The only shop we saw was an 
English tea-room. In the mam street we met a 
wagon draped in red and yellow bunting. Very 
slowly, a hearse in motley, it rolled along behind two 



PARADISE 


87 

aged horses; and a little crowd of twenty or thirty 
men and boys, somewhat the worse for wine, straggled 
after it, lugubriously singing. They were, I suppose, 
the natives, making merry behind one of CarnivaFs 
allegorical cars. We hurried back to Paradise. The 
colleen and the geisha were still talking with the 
clergyman. In the background a group of old ladies 
muttered over their knitting. 

Plungry after a long day's journey, we responded 
punctually to the dinner-bell. A few of the tables 
were already occupied. Isolated in the middle of the 
dining-room, a little old woman in black was eating 
earnestly, almost with passion — ^the passionate greed 
of one whom age and circumstances had deprived of 
every other outlet for the libido. In a distant 
corner two manifest spinsters of forty-five were 
engaged with their soup They wore semi-evening 
dresses, and when they moved there was a dim glitter 
of semi-precious stones, dry rattling of beads. Their 
hair was light, almost colourless, and frizzy with 
much curling. We began our meal. Two more old 
ladies came in, a cadaver and a black satin balloon. 
A mother, widowed, with three daughters who had 
been pretty a few years ago and were now fading, 
had faded already into a definite unmarriageableness, 
sat down at the table next to ours. An artistic lady 
followed. Her sage-green dress was only semi-semi- 
evening, and the beads she wore were definitely non- 
precious. Another widowed mother with an un- 
married daughter who had never been pretty at any 
time. Another solitary old lady. The parson and 
his wife — ^what a relief to see a pair of trousers I 
An old lady who hobbled in with the help of a stick 
and a companion. The stick was of ebony; the 
companion had the white opaque complexion of a 
plucked chicken. 



88 


PARADISE 


In a few minutes all the tables were occupied. 
There were, perhaps, forty guests — all English, and 
all, except the parson and myself, women. And what 
women ! We looked at one another and would have 
laughed, if the spectacle of so much age and virtue and 
ugliness, so much frustration and rehnement, so much 
middle-class pride on such small fixed incomes, so 
much ennui and self-sacrifice, had not been painfully 
distressing as well as grotesque. And suddenly it 
occurred to me that the whole Riviera, from IMax'stulles 
to Spezia, was teeming with such women. In a 
single appalling intuition I realized all their existences. 
At that very moment, I reflected, in all the cheap hotels 
and pensions of the Mediterranean littoral, thousands 
upon thousands of them were eating their fish with 
that excessive middle-class refinement which makes 
one long, in the Maison Lyons, for the loud had manners 
of provincial France or Belgium, Thousands upon 
thousands of them, trying to keep warm, trying to 
keep well through the winter, trying to find in foreign 
parts distraction and novelty and cheapness. But the 
wind howls in spite of the palm-trees. The rain 
comes lashing down. The little towns on their bays 
between the rocky headlands are utterly dead. Tlie 
only distraction is the chat of other women of tlieir 
kind. The only novelties are the latest things in 
semi-evening dresses and semi-precious beads. The 
franc and the lira never buy as much as one expect.s. 
Income remains irrevocably fixed — and so do morals 
and intellectual interests, so do prejudices, manners, 
and habits. 

In the lounge, waiting for the coffee, we gorinto 
conversation with the clergyman. Or rather,, he got 
into conversation with us. He felt it his duty, I 
suppose, as a Christian, as a temporary chaplain in 
the Anglican diocese of Southern Europe, to welcome 



PARADISE 


89 


the newcomers, to put them at their ease. ' Beautiful 
evening,' he said, in his too richly cultured voice. 
(But I loved him for his trousers.) ' Beautiful,' we 
agreed, and that the place was charming. ' Staying 
long? ' he asked. We looked at one another, then 
round the crowded hall, then again at one another. 
I shook my head. ' To-morrow,' I said, ' we have to 
make a very early start,' 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


In the neighbourhood of latitude fifty north, and 
for the last hundred years or thereabouts, it has been 
an axiom that Nature is divine and morally uplifting. 
For good Wordsworthians — and most serious-minded 
people are now Wordsworthians, cither by direct 
inspiration or at second hand — a walk in the country 
is the equivalent of going to church, a tour through 
Westmorland is as good as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 
To commune with the fields and waters, the wood- 
lands and the hills, is to commune, according to our 
modern and northern ideas, with the visible mani- 
festations of the ‘ Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe.' 

The Wordsworthian who exports this pantheistic 
worship of Nature to the tropics is liable to have his 
religious convictions somewhat rudely disturbed. 
Nature, under a vertical sun, and nourished by the 
equatorial rains, is not at all like that cliaste, mild 
deity who presides over the Gemuthlichkeii, the pretti- 
ness, the cosy sublimities of the Lake District. The 
worst that Wordsworth's goddess ever did to him 
was to make him hear 

Ix)w breathings coming after me, and sounds 
Of nndistinguishable motion, steps 
Almost as sdent as the turf they trod ; 

was to make him realize, in the shape of ' a huge 
peak, black and huge/ the existence of ' unknown 
modes of being.' He seems to have inagined that 
this was the worst Nature could do. A few weeks in 
Malaya or Borneo would have undeceived him. 
Wandering in the hothouse darkness of the jungle, 
oo 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS qx 

he would not have felt so serenely certain of those 
* Presences of Nature/ those ' Souls of Lonely Places/ 
which he was in the habit of worshipping on the shores 
of Windermere and Rydal. The sparse inhabitants 
of the equatorial forest are all believers in devils. 
When one has visited, in even the most superficial 
manner, the places where they live, it is difficult not 
to share their faith. The jungle is marvellous, 
fantastic, beautiful ; but it is also terrifying, it is also 
profoundly sinister. There is something in what, for 
lack of a better word, we must call the character of 
great forests — even in those of temperate lands — 
which is foreign, appalling, fundamentily and utterly 
inimical to intruding man. The life of those vast 
masses of swarming vegetation is alien to the human 
spirit and hostile to it. Meredith, in his ' Woods of 
Westermaine,' has tried reassuringly to persuade us 
that our terrors are unnecessary, that the hostility of 
these vegetable forces is more apparent than real, 
and that if we will but trust Nature we shall find our 
fears transfonned into serenity, joy, and rapture. 
This may be sound philosophy in the neighbourhood 
of Dorking ; but it begins to be dubious even in the 
forests of Germany — there is too much of them for a 
human being to feel himself at ease within their 
enormous glooms; and when the woods of Borneo 
are substituted for those of Westermaine, Meredith's 
comforting doctrine becomes frankly ridiculous. 

It is not the sense of solitude that distresses the 
wanderer in equatorial jungles. Loneliness is bear- 
able enough — for a time, at any rate. There is 
something actually rather stimulating and exciting 
about being in an empty place where there is no life 
but one's own. Taken in reasonably small doses, 
the Sahara exhilarates, like alcohol. Too much of it, 
however (I speak, at any rate, for myself), has the 

D 



^2 


WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


depressing effect of the second bottle of Burgundy. 
But in any case it is not loneliness that oppresses the 
equatorial traveller : it is too much company ; it is 
the uneasy feeling that he is an alien in the midst of 
an innumerable throng of hostile beings. To us who 
live beneath a temperate sky and in the age of Henry 
Ford, the worship of Nature comes almost naturally. 
It is easy to love a feeble and already conquered enemy. 
But an enemy with whom one is still at war, an un- 
-conquered, unconquerable, ceaselessly active enemy — 
no; one does not, one should not, love him. One 
respects him, perhaps ; one has a salutary fear of him ; 
and one goes on fighting. In our latitudes the hosts 
of Nature have mostly been vanquished and enslaved. 
Borne few detachments, it is true, stiU hold the field 
against us. There are wild woods and mountains, 
marshes and heaths, even in England. But they are 
there only on sufferance, because we have chosen, out 
of our good pleasure, to leave them their freedom. 
It has not been worth our while to reduce them to 
slavery. We love them because we are the masters, 
because we know that at any moment we can overcome 
them as we overcame their fellows. The inhabitants 
of the tropics have no such comforting reasons for 
adoring the sinister forces which hem them in on every 
side. For us, the notion ' river ' implies (how 
obviously !) the notion ^ bridge.' Wlien we think of 
a plain, we think of agriculture, towns, and good 
roads. The corollary of mountain is tunnel; of 
swamp, an embankment ; of distance, a railway. At 
latitude zero, however, the obvious is not the same 
as with us. Rivers imply wading, swimming, alli- 
gators. Plains mean swamps, forests, fevers. Moun- 
tains are either dangerous or impassable. To travel 
is to hack one's way laboriously through a tangled, 
prickly, and venomous darkness. * God made the 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


93 


country/ said Cowper, in his rather too blank verse. 
In New Guinea he would have had his doubts; he 
would have longed for the man-made town. 

The Wordsworthian adoration of Nature has two 
principal defects. The first, as we have seen, is that 
it is only possible in a country where Nature has been 
nearly or quite enslaved to man. The second is that 
it is only possible for those who are prepared to falsify 
their immediate intuitions of Nature. For Nature, 
even in the temperate zone, is always alien and in- 
human, and occasionally diabolic. Meredith explicitly 
invites us to explain any unpleasant experiences 
away. We are to interpret them. Pangloss fashion, 
in terms of a preconceived philosophy ; after which, 
all will surely be for the best in the best of all possible 
Westermaines. Less openly, Wordsworth asks us to 
make the same falsification of immediate experience. 
It is only very occasionally that he admits the existence 
in the world around him of those ‘ unknown modes of 
being ’ of which our immediate intuitions of things 
make us so disquietingly aware. Normally what 
he does is to pump the dangerous Unknown out of 
Nature and refill the emptied forms of hills and woods, 
flowers and waters, with something more reassuringly 
familiar — with humanity, with Anglicanism. He will 
not admit that a yellow primrose is simply a yellow 
primrose — beautiful, but essentially strange, having 
its own alien life apart. He wants it to possess some 
sort of soul, to exist humanly, not simply dowerily. 
He wants tlxe earth to be more than earthy, to be a 
divine person. But the life of vegetation is radically 
unlike the life of man : the earth has a mode of being 
that is certainly not the mode of being of a person. 

' Let Nature be your teacher,' says Wordsworth. 
The advice is excellent. But how strangely he 
himself puts it into practice I Instead of listening 



94 


WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


humbly to what the teacher says, he shuts his ears 
and himself dictates the lesson he desires to hear. 
The pupil knows better than his master; the wor- 
shipper substitutes his own oracles for those of the god. 
Instead of accepting the lesson as it is given to his 
immediate intuitions, he distorts it rationaiistically 
into the likeness of a parson's sermon or a professorial 
lecture. Our direct intuitions of Nature tell us that 
the world is bottomlessly strange : alien, even when 
it is kind and beautiful ; having innumerable modes of 
being that are not our modes; always mysteriously 
not personal, not conscious, not moral ; often hostile 
and sinister; sometimes even unimaginably, because 
inhumanly, evil. In his youth, it would seem, 
Wordsworth left his direct intuitions of the world 
unwarped. 

The sounding cataract 
Haunted me like a passion : the tall rock, 

The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood. 

Their colours and their forms, were then to me 
An appetive ; a feeling and a love. 

That had no need of a remoter charm. 

By thought supplied, nor any interest 
XJnborxowed from the eye. 

As the years passed, however, he began to interpret 
them in terms of a preconceived philosophy. Pro- 
cmstes-Iike, he tortured his feelings and perceptions 
until they fitted his system. By the time he was tiiirty. 

The immeasurable height 
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed. 

The stationary blasts of waterfalls — • 

The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky. 

The rocks that muttered close upon our ears, 

Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside 
As if a voice were in them, the sick sight 
And giddy prospect of the raving stream, 

The unfettered clouds and r^ions of the heavens. 
Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light-— 

Were all like workings of one mind, the feature 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


95 


Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree. 

Characters of the great Apocalypse, 

The types and symbols of eternity. 

Of first, and last, and midst, and without end. 

' Something far more deeply interfused ' had made 
its appearance on the Wordsworthian scene. The 
god of Anglicanism had crept under the skin of things, 
and all the stimulatingly inhuman strangeness of 
Nature had become as flatly familiar as a page from a 
textbook of metaphysics or theology. As familiar 
and as safely simple. Pantheistically interpreted, our 
intuitions of Nature's endless varieties of impersonal 
mysteriousness lose all their exciting and disturbing 
quality. It makes the world seem delightfully cosy, 
if you can pretend that all the many alien things about 
you are really only manifestations of one person. It 
is fear of the lab5ninthine dux and complexity of 
phenomena that has driven men to philosophy, to 
science, to theology — fear of the complex reality 
driving them to invent a simpler, more manageable, 
and, therefore, consoling fiction. For simple, in 
comparison with the external reality of which we have 
direct intuitions, childishly simple is even the most 
elaborate and subtle system devised by the human 
mind. Most of the philosophical systems hitherto 
popular have not been subtle and elaborate even by 
human standards. Even by human standards they 
have been crude, bald, preposterously straightforward. 
Hence their popularity. Their simplicity has rendered 
them instantly comprehensible. Weary with much 
wandering in the maze of phenomena, frightened by 
the inhospitable strangeness of the world, men have 
rushed into the systems prepared for them by philoso- 
phers and founders of religions, as they would rush 
from a dark iungle into the haven of a well-lit, com- 
modious house. With a sigh of relief and a thankful 



96 


WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


feeling that here at last is their true home, they settle 
down in their snug metaphysical villa and go to 
sleep. And how furious they are when any one comes 
rudely knocking at the door to tell them that their 
villa is jerry-built, dilapidated, unfit for human 
habitation, even non-existent ! Men have been burnt 
at the stake for even venturing to criticize the colour 
of the front door or the shape of the third-door 
windows. 

That man must build himself some sort of meta- 
physical shelter in the midst of the jxingie of 
immediately apprehended reality is obvious. No 
practical activity, no scientific research, no specu- 
lation is possible without some preliminary hypothesis 
about the nature and the purpose of things. The 
human mind cannot deal with the universe directly, 
nor even with its own immediate intuitions of the 
universe. Whenever it is a question of thinking about 
the world or of practically modifying it, men can only 
work on a symbolic plan of the universe, only on a 
simplified, two-dimensional map of things abstracted 
by the mind out of the complex and multifarious 
reality of immediate intuition. History shows that 
these hypotheses about the nature of things are 
valuable even when, as later experience reveals, they 
are false. Man approaches the unattainable truth 
through a succession of errors. Confronted by the 
strange complexity of things, he invents, quite ar- 
bitrarily, a simple hypothesis to explain and justify 
the world. Having invented, he proceeds to act and 
think in terms of this hypothesis, as though it were 
correct. Experience gradually shows him where his 
hypothesis is unsatisfactory and how it should be 
modified. Thus, great scientific discoveries have 
been made by men seeking to verify quite erroneous 
theories about the nature of things. The discoveries 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


97 


have necessitated a modification of the original 
hypotheses, and further discoveries have been made 
in the effort to verify the modifications — discoveries 
which, in their turn, have led to yet further modi- 
fications. And so on, indefinitely. Philosophical 
and religious hypotheses, being less susceptible of 
experimental verification than the hypotheses of 
science, have undergone far less modification. For 
example, the pantheistic hypothesis of Wordsworth is 
an ancient doctrine, which human experience has 
hardly modified throughout history. And rightly, 
no doubt. For it is obvious that there must be some 
sort of unity underlying the diversity of phenomena ; 
for if there were not, the world would be quite unknow- 
able. Indeed, it is precisely in the knowableness of 
things, in the very fact that they are known, that their 
fundamental unity consists. The world which we 
know, and which our minds have fabricated out of 
goodness knows what mysterious things in themselves, 
possesses the unity which our minds have imposed 
upon it. It is part of our thought, hence fundamentally 
homogeneous. Yes, the world is obviously one. 
But at the same time it is no less obviously diverse. 
For if the world were absolutely one, it would no 
longer be knowable, it would cease to exist. Thought 
must be divided against itself before it can come to 
any knowledge of itself. Absolute oneness is absolute 
nothingness : homogeneous perfection, as the Hindus 
perceived and courageously I'ecognized, is equivalent 
to non-existence, is nirvana. The Christian idea of a 
perfect heaven that is something other than a non- 
existence is a contradiction in terms. The world in 
which we live may be fundamentally one, but it is a 
unity divided up into a great many diverse fragments. 
A tree, a table, a newspaper, a piece of artificial silk 
are ah made of wood. But they are, none the less. 



98 WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 

distinct and separate objects. It is the same with 
the world at large. Our immediate intentions are of 
diversity. We have only to open our eyes to recognize 
a multitude of different phenomena. These intuitions 
of diversity are as correct, as well justified, as is our 
intellectual conviction of the fundamental homo- 
geneity of the various parts of the world with one 
another and with ourselves. Circumstances have led 
humanity to set an ever-increasing premium on the 
conscious and intellectual comprehension of things. 
Modem man*s besetting temptation is to sacrifice his 
direct perceptions and spontaneous feelings to his 
reasoned reflections ; to prefer in all circumstances the 
verdict of his intellect to that of his immediate in- 
tuitions. * L'homme est visiblement fait pour penser,' 
says Pascal ; ‘ c’est toute sa dignity et tout son mdrite ; 
et tout son devoir est de penser comme il faut.' 
Noble words; but do they happen to be true? 
Pascal seems to forget that man has something else to 
do besides think : he must live. Living may not 
be so dignified or so meritorious as thinking (par- 
ticularly when you happen to be, like Pascal, a 
chronic invalid) ; but it is, perhaps unfortunately, a 
necessary process. If one would live well, one must 
live completely, with the whole being — with the body 
and the instincts, as well as with the conscious mind. 
A life lived, as far as may be, exclusively from the 
consciousness and in accordance with the considered 
judgments of the intellect, is a stunted life, a half-dead 
life. This is a fact that can be confirmed by daily 
observation. But consciousness, the intellect, the 
spirit, have acquired an inordinate prestige; and 
such is men's snobbish respect for authority, such is 
their pedantic desire to be consistent, that they go on 
doing their best to lead the exclusively conscious, 
spiritual, and intellectual life, in spite of its manifest 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


99 


disadvantages. To know is pleasant; it is exciting 
to be conscious ; the intellect is a valuable instrument, 
and for certain purposes the hypotheses which it 
fabricates are of great practical value. Quite true. 
But, therefore, say the moralists and men of science, 
drawing conclusions only justified by their desire for 
consistency, therefore all life should be lived from the 
head, consciously, all phenomena should at all times 
be interpreted in terms of the intellect's hypotheses. 
The religious teachers are of a slightly different 
opinion. All life, according to them, should be 
lived spiritually, not intellectually. Why? On the 
grounds, as we discover when we push our analysis 
far enough, that certain occasional psychological 
states, currently called spiritual, are extremely 
agreeable and have valuable consequences in the 
realm of social behaviour. The unprejudiced observer 
finds it hard to understand why these people should 
set such store by consistency of thought and action. 
Because oysters are occasionally pleasant, it does not 
follow that one should make of oysters one's exclusive 
diet. Nor should one take castor-oil every day 
because castor-oil is occasionally good for one. Too 
much consistency is as bad for the mind as it is for 
the body. Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary 
to life. The only completely consistent people are 
the dead. Consistent intellectualism and spirituality 
may be socially valuable, up to a point; but they 
make, gradually, for individual death. And in- 
dividual death, when the slow murder has been 
consummated, is finally social death. So that the 
social utility of pure intellectualism and pure spiritual- 
ity is only apparent and temporary. What is needed 
is, as ever, a compromise. Life must be lived in 
different ways at different moments. The only 
satisfactory way of existing in the modem, highly 



lOO 


WOKDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


specialized world is to live with two personalities. A 
Dr. Jekyll that does the metaphysical and scientific 
thinking, that transacts business in the city, adds 
up figures, designs machines, and so forth. And a 
natural, spontaneous Mr. Hyde to do the physical, 
instinctive living in the intervals of work. The 
two personalities should lead their unconnected lives 
apart, without poaching on one another’s preserves or 
inquiring too closely into one another’s activities. 
Only by living discretely and inconsistently can we 
preserve both the man and the citizen, both the 
inteUectual and the spontaneous animal being, alive 
within us. The solution may not be very satisfactory ; 
but it is, I believe now (though once I thought differ- 
ently), the best that, in the modern circumstances, can 
be devised. 

The poet’s place, it seems to me, is with the Mr. 
Hydes of human nature. He should be, as Blake 
remarked of Milton, ' of the devil’s party without 
knowmg it ’ — or preferably with the full conscioirsness 
of being of the devil’s party. There are so many 
intellectual and moral angels battling for rationalism, 
good citizenship, and pure spirituality ; so many and 
such eminent ones, so very vocal and authoritative I 
The poor devil in man needs all the support and 
advocacy he can get. The artist is his natural 
champion. When an artist deserts to the side of the 
angels, it is the most odious of treasons. How un- 
forgivable, for example, is Tolstoy! Tolstoy, the 
perfect Mr. Hyde, the complete embodiment, if ever 
there was one, of non-intellectual, non-moral, 
instinctive life — ^Tolstoy, who betrayed his own 
nature, betrayed his art, betrayed life itselt, in order 
to fight against the devil’s party of his earlier alle- 
giances, under the standard of Dr. Jesus- Jekyll. 
Wordsworth’s betrayal was not so spectacular : he 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


lOI 


was never so wholly of the devil's party as Tolstoy. 
Still, it was bad enough. It is difficult to forgive him 
for so utterly repenting his youthful passions and 
enthusiasms, and becoming, personally as well as 
politically, the anglican tory. One remembers 
B. R. Haydon's account of the poet's reactions to 
that charming classical sculpture of Cupid and Psyche. 
' The devils ! ' he said malignantly, after a long- 
drawn contemplation of their marble embrace. 
' The devils ! ' And he was not using the word in 
the complimentary sense in which I have employed it 
here : he was expressing his hatred of passion and life, 
he was damning the young man he had himself been — 
the young man who had hailed the French Revolution 
with dehght and begotten an illegitimate child. 
From being an ardent lover of the nymphs, he had 
become one of those all too numerous 

woodmen who expel 

I>ove*s gentle dryads from the haunts of life. 

And vex the nightingales in every deU. 

Yes, even the nightingales he vexed. Even the 
nightingales, though the poor birds can never, like 
those all too human dryads, have led him into sexual 
temptation. Even the innocuous nightingales were 
moralized, spiritualized, turned into citizens and 
anglicans — and along with the nightingales, the 
whole of animate and inanimate Nature. 

The change in Wordsworth's attitude towards 
Nature is symptomatic of his general apostasy. 
Beginning as what I may call a natural aesthete, he 
transformed himself, in the course of years, into a 
moralist, a thinker. He used his intellect to distort 
his exquisitely acute and subtle intuitions of the 
world, to explain away their often disquieting strange- 
ness, to simplify them into a comfortable metaphysical 



102 


WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS 


unreality. Nature had endowed him with the poet's 
gift of seeing more than ordinarily far into the brick 
walls of external reality, of intuitively comprehending 
the character of the bricks, of feeling the quality of 
their being, and establishing the appropriate relation- 
ship with them. But he preferred to think his gifts 
away. He preferred, in the interests of a precon- 
ceived religious theory, to ignore the disquieting 
strangeness of things, to interpret the impersonal 
diversity of Nature in terms of a divine, anglican 
unity. He chose, in a word, to be a philosopher, 
comfortably at home with a man-made and, there- 
fore, thoroughly comprehensible system, rather than 
a poet adventuring for adventure's sake through the 
mysterious world revealed by his direct and undis- 
torted intuitions. 

It is a pity that he never travelled beyond the 
boundaries of Europe. A voyage through the 
tropics would have cured him of his too easy and 
comfortable pantheism. A few months in the jungle 
would have convinced him that the diversity and 
utter strangeness of Nature are at least as real and 
significant as its intellectually discovered unity. 
Nor would he have felt so certain, in the damp and 
stifling darkness, among the leeches and the malevo- 
lently tangled rattans, of the divinely anglican 
character of that fundamental unity. He would 
have learned once more to treat Nature naturally, 
as he treated it in his youth; to react to it spon- 
taneously, loving where love was the appropriate 
emotion, fearing, hating, fighting whenever Nature 
presented itself to his intuition as being, not merely 
strange, but hostile, inhumanly evil. A voyage 
would have taught him this. But Wordsworth 
never left his native continent. Europe is so weE 
gardened that it resembles a work of art, a scientific 



WORDSWORTH IN THE TROPICS loa 

theory, a neat metaphysical system. Man has re- 
created Europe in his own image. Its tamed and 
temperate Nature confirmed Wordsworth in his 
philosophizings. The poet, the deviFs partisan 
were doomed; the angels triumphed. Alas 1 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


Human nature does not change, or, at any rate, 
history is too short for any changes to be perceptible. 
The earliest known specimens of art and literature 
are still comprehensible. The fact that wc can 
understand them all and can recognize in some of 
them an unsurpassed artistic excellence is proof 
enough that not only men's feelings and instincts, 
but also their intellectual and imaginative powers, 
were in the remotest times precisely what they are 
now. In the fine arts it is only the convention, the 
form, the incidentals that change : the fundamentals 
of passion, of intellect and imagination remain 
unaltered. 

It is the same with the arts of life as with the 
fine arts. Conventions and traditions, prejudices and 
ideals and religious beliefs, moral systems and codes 
of good manners, varying according to the geographical 
and historical circumstances, mould into dilYcrcnt 
forms the unchanging material of human instinct, 
passion, and desire. It is a stiff, intractable material 
— ^Egyptian granite, rather than Hindu bronze. The 
artists who carved the colossal statues of Rameses il 
"juay have wished to represent the Pharaoh standing 
on one leg and waving two or three pairs of arms 
over his head, as the Indians still represent the 
dancing Krishna. But with the best will in tlie 
world they could not have imposed such a form 
upon the granite. Similarly, those artists in social 
life whom we call statesmen, moralists, founders of 
religions, have often wished to mould human, nature 

104 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


105 


into forms of superhuman elegance; but the material 
has proved too stubborn for them, and they have 
had to be content with only a relatively small altera- 
tion in the form which their predecessors had given 
it. At any given historical moment human behaviour 
is a compromise (enforced from without by law and 
custom, from within by belief in religious or philo- 
sophical myths) between the raw instinct on the one 
hand and the unattainable ideal on the other — a 
compromise, in our sculptural metaphor, between 
the unshaped block of stone and the many-armed 
dancing Krishna. 

Like all the other great human activities, love is 
the product of unchanging passions, instincts, and 
desires (unchanging, that is to say, in the mass of 
humanity ; for, of course, they vary greatly in 
quantity and quality from individual to individual), 
and of laws and conventions, beliefs and ideals, which 
the circumstances of time and place, or the arbitrary 
fiats of great personalities, have imposed on a more 
or less willing society. The history of love, if it 
were ever written (and doubtless some learned 
German, unread, alas, by me, has written it, and in 
several volumes), would be like the current histories 
of art — a record of succeeding ' styles " and ' schools,' 
of * infiuences,' ' revolutions,' ' technical discoveries.' 
Love's psychological and physiological material 
remains the same; but every epoch treats it in a 
different manner, just as every epoch cuts its unvary- 
ing cloth and silk and linen into garments of the most 
diverse fashion. By way of illustration, I may 
mention that vogue of homosexuality which seems, 
from all accounts, to have been universal in the 
Hellenic world. Plutarch attributes the inception of 
this mode to the custom (novel in the fifth century, 
according to Thucydides) of exercising naked in the 



io6 FASHIONS IN LOVE 

palestra.^ But whatever may have been its origin, 
there can be no doubt that this particular fashion in 
love spread widely among people who were not in 
the least congenitally disposed to homosexuality. 
Convention and public opinion moulded the material 
of love into forms which a later age has chosen to 
call * unnatural/ A recrudescence of this amorous 
mode was very noticeable in Europe during the years 
immediately following the War. Among the deter- 
mining causes of this recrudescence a future Plutarch 
will undoubtedly number the writings of Proust and 
Andre Gide. 

The present fashions in love are not so definite and 
universal as those in clothes. It is as though our age 
were dubiously hesitating between crinolines and 
hobble skirts, trunk hose and Oxford trousers. Two 
distinct and hostile conceptions of love coexist in the 
minds of men and women, two sets of ideals, of 
conventions, of public opinions, struggle for the right 
to mould the psychological and physiological material 
of love. One is the conception evolved by the 
nineteenth century out of the ideals of Christianity 
on the one hand and romanticism on the other. The 
other is that still rather inchoate and negative con- 
ception which contemporary youth is in process of 
forming out of the materials provided by modem 
psychology. The public opinion, the conventions, 
ideals, and prejudices which gave active force to the 
first convention and enabled it, to some extent at 

^ Plutarcti, who wrote some five hundred years after the 
event, is by no means an unquestionable authority. The 
habit of which he and Thucydides speak may have facilitated 
the spread of the homosexual fashion. But that the fashion 
existed before the fifth century is mad© sufficiently clear by 
Homer, not to mention Sappho. Like many modem oriental 
peoples, the ancient Greeks were evidently, in Sir Richard 
Burton^s expressive phrase, ‘ omnifutueat.' 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


107 

least, to modify the actual practice of love, had 
already lost much of their strength when they were 
rudely shattered, at any rate in the minds of the 
you^g, by the shock of the War. As usually happens, 
practice preceded theory, and the new conception of 
lov# was called in to justify existing post- War 
manners. Having gained a footing, the new con- 
ception is now a cause of new behaviour among the 
youngest adolescent generation, instead of being, as 
it was for the generation of the War, an explanation 
of war-time behaviour made after the fact. 

Let us try to analyse these two coexisting and 
conflicting conceptions of love. The older conception 
was, as I have said, the product of Christianity and 
romanticism — a curious mixture of contradictions, of 
the ascetic dread of passion and the romantic worship 
of passion. Its ideal was a strict monogamy, such as 
St. Paul grudgingly conceded to amorous humanity, 
sanctified and made eternal by one of those terrific 
exclusive passions which are the favourite theme of 
poetry and drama. It is an ideal which finds its 
most characteristic expression in the poetry of that 
infinitely respectable rebel, that profoundly anglican 
worshipper of passion, Robert Browning. It was 
Rousseau who first started the cult of passion for 
passion's sake. Before his time the great passions, 
such as that of Paris for Helen, of Dido for ^neas, 
of Paolo and Francesca for one another, had been 
regarded rather as disastrous maladies than as 
enviable states of soul. Rousseau, followed by ail 
the romantic poets of France and England, trans- 
formed the grand passion from what it had been in 
the Middle Ages — a demoniac possession — into a 
divine ecstasy, and promoted it from the rank of a 
disease to that of the only true and natural form of 
love. The nineteenth-centuiy conception of love 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


108 

was thus doubly mystical, with the mysticism of 
Christian asceticism and sacramentalism, and with 
the romantic mysticism of Nature. It claimed an 
absolute rightness on the grounds of its divinity and 
of its naturalness. 

Now, if there is one thing that the study of histbry 
and psychology makes abundantly clear, it is that 
there are no such things as either ‘ divine ' or ' natural ' 
forms of love. Innumerable gods have sanctioned 
and forbidden innumerable kinds of sexual beha^our, 
and innumerable philosophers and poets have advo- 
cated the return to the most diverse kinds of ' nature.* 
Every form of amorous behaviour, from chastity and 
monogamy to promiscuity and the most fantastic 
' perversions,* is found both among animals and men. 
In any given human society, at any given moment, 
love, as we have seen, is the result of the interaction 
of the unchanging instinctive and physiological 
material of sex with the local conventions of morality 
and religion, the local laws, prejudices, and ideals. 
The degree of permanence of these conventions, 
religious myths, and ideals is proportional to their 
social utility in the given circumstances of time and 
place. 

The new twentieth-century conception of love is 
realistic. It recognizes the diversity of love, not 
merely in the social mass from age to age, but from 
individual to contemporary individual, according to 
the dosage of the different instincts with which each 
is born, and the upbringing he has received. The 
new generation knows that there is no such thing as 
Love with a large L, and that what the Christian 
romantics of the last century regarded as the uniquely 
natural form of love is, in fact, only one of the 
indefinite number of possible amorous fashions, 
produced by specific circumstances at that par- 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


109 


ticular time. Psycho-analysis has taught it that all 
the forms of sexual behaviour previously regarded as 
wicked, perverse, unnatural, are statistically normal 
(anc^ normality is solely a question of statistics), and 
that what is commonly called amorous normality is 
far from being a spontaneous, instinctive form of 
behaviour, but must be acquired by a process of 
edmatkm. Having contracted the habit of talking 
wmd more or less scientifically about sexual 
mattes, the young no longer regard love with that 
feeling of rather guilty excitement and thrilling 
shame which was for an earlier generation the normal 
reaction to the subject. Moreover, the practice of 
birth-control has robbed amorous indulgence of most 
of the sinfulness traditionally supposed to be inherent 
in it by robbing it of its socially disastrous effects. 
The tree shall be known by its fruits : where there 
are no fruits, there is obviously no tree. Love has 
ceased to be the rather fearful, mysterious thing it 
was, and become a perfectly normal, almost common- 
place, activity — an activity, for many young people, 
especially in America, of the same nature as dancing 
or tennis, a sport, a recreation, a pastime. For those 
who hold this conception of love, liberty and tolera- 
tion are prime necessities. A strenuous offensive 
against the old taboos and repressions is everywhere 
in progress. 

Such, then, are the two conceptions of love which 
oppose one another to-day. Which is the better? 
Without presuming to pass judgment, I wiU content 
myself with pointing out the defects of each. The 
older conception was bad, in so far as it inflicted 
unnecessary and undeserved sufferings on the many 
human beings whose congenital and acquired modes 
of love-making did not conform to the fashionable 
Christian-romantic pattern which was regarded as 



no 


FASHIONS IN LOVE 


being uniquely entitled to call itself Love* The new 
conception is bad, it seems to me, in so far as it takes 
love too easily and lightly. On love regarded as an 
amusement the last word is surely this of Rdbcrt 
Burns : 


I waive the quantum of the sin. 

The hazard of concealing ; 

But oh 1 it hardens all within 
And petrifies the feeling. 

Nothing is more dreadful than a cold, ummpasaMBBd 
indulgence. And love infallibly becomes cold um 
unimpassioned when it is too lightly made. It is not 
good, as Pascal remarked, to have too much liberty. 
Love is the product of two opposed forces — of an 
instinctive impulsion and a social resistance acting 
on the individual by means of ethical imperatives 
justified by philosophical or religious myths. When, 
with the destruction of the myths, resistance is 
removed, the impulse wastes itself on emptiness; 
and love which is only the product of conflicting 
forces, is not bom. The twentieth century is repro- 
ducing in a new form the error of the early nineteenth- 
century romantics. Following Rousseau, the 
romantics imagined that exclusive passion was the 
‘ natural ' mode of love, just as virtue and reasonable- 
ness were the ' natural ' forms of men's social be- 
haviour. Get rid of pnests and kings, and men will 
be for ever good and happy; poor Shelley's faith in 
this palpable nonsense remained unshaken to the 
end. He believed also in the complementary para- 
logism that you had only to get rid of social restraints 
and erroneous mytholo^ to make the Grand Passion 
universally chronic. Like the Mussets and Sands, he 
failed to see that the Grand Passion was produced 
by the restraints that opposed themselves to the 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


nr 


sexual impulse, just as the deep lake is produced by 
the dam that bars the passage of the stream, and the 
flight of the aeroplane by the air which resists the 
impulsion given to it by the motor. There would be 
no air-resistance in a vacuum; but precisely for that 
reason the machine would not leave the ground, or 
even move at all. Where there are no psychological 
or exteimal restraints, the Grand Passion does not 
Qome into existence and must be artificially cultivated, 
$S (Jeorge Sand and Musset cultivated it — with what 
J>ainful and grotesque results the episode of Venice 
made only too ludicrously manifest. 

‘ J'aime et je veux pMir ; j'aime et je veux souffrir/ 
says Musset, with his usual hysterically masochistic 
emphasis. Our young contemporaries do not wish 
to suffer or grow pale ; on the contrary, they have a 
most determined desire to grow pink and enjoy them- 
selves. But too much enjoyment ' blunts the fine 
point of seldom pleasure.' Unrestrained indulgence 
kills not merely passion, but, in the end, even amuse- 
ment. Too much liberty is as life-destroying as too 
much restraint. The present fashion in love-making 
is likely to be short, because love that is psycho- 
logically too easy is not interesting. Such, at any 
rate, was evidently the opinion of the French, who, 
bored by the sexual licence produced by the Napoleonic 
upheavals, reverted (so far, at any rate, as the upper 
and middle classes were concerned) to an almost 
anglican strictness under Louis-Philippe. We may 
anticipate an analogous reaction in the not distant 
future. What new or what revived mythology will 
serve to create those internal restraints without 
which sexual impulse cannot be transformed into 
love ? Christian morality and ascetic ideals will 
doubtless continue to play their part, but there will 
no less certainiy be other nioralities and ideals. For 



II2 


FASHIONS IN LOVE 


example, D. H. Lawrence's new mythology of 
nature (new in its expression, but reassuringly old in 
substance) is a doctrine that seems to me fruitful in 
possibilities. The ‘ natural love ' which he sets up 
as a norm is a passion less self-conscious and high- 
falutin, less obviously and precariously artificial, than 
that * natural love ' of the romantics, in which 
Platonic and Christian notions were essential in- 
gredients. The restraints which Lawrence would 
impose on sexual impulse, so as to transform it into 
love, are not the restraints of religious spirituality. 
They are restraints of a more fundamental, less arti- 
ficial nature — emotional, not intellectual. The im- 
pulse is to be restrained from promiscuous manifesta- 
tions because, if it were not, promiscuity would 
‘ harden all within and petrify the feeling.’ The 
restraint is of the same personal nature as the 
impulse. The conflict is between a part of the 
personality and the personality as an organized 
whole. It does not pretend, as the romantic and 
Christian conflict pretends, to be a battle between a 
diabolical Lower Seif and certain transcendental 
Absolutes, of which the only thing that philosophy 
can tell us is that they are absolutely unknowable, 
and therefore, for our purposes, non-existent. It 
only claims to be, what in fact it is, a psychological 
conflict taking place in the more or less known and 
finite world of human interests. This doctrine has 
several great advantages over previous systems of 
inward restraint. It does not postulate the existence 
of any transcendental, non-human entity. This is 
a merit which will be increasingly appreciated as the 
significance of Kant’s and Nietzsche's destructive 
criticism is more widely realized. People will cease 
to be interested in unknowable absolutes; but they 
will never lose interest in their own personalities. 



FASHIONS IN LOVE 


True, that * personality as a whole,' in whose interests 
the sexual impulse is to be restrained and turned into 
love, is, strictly speaking, a mythological figure. 
Consisting, as we do, of a vast colony of souls — souls 
of individual cells, of organs, of groups of organs, 
hunger-souls, sex-souls, power-souls, herd-souls, of 
whose multifarious activities our consciousness (the 
Soul with a large S) is only very imperfectly and 
indirectly aware — we are not in a position to know 
the real nature of our personality as a whole. The 
only thing we can do is to hazard a hypothesis, to 
create a mythological figure, caU it Human Person- 
ality, and hope that circumstances will not, by 
destroying us, prove our imaginative guesswork too 
hopelessly wrong. But myth for myth, Human Per- 
sonality is preferable to God. We do at least know 
something of Human Personality, whereas of God we 
know nothing and, knowing nothing, are at liberty to 
invent as freely as we like. If men had always tried 
to deal with the problem of love in terms of known 
human rather than of grotesquely imagined divine 
interests, there would have been less ' making of 
eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,’ less 
persecution of " sinners,' less burning and imprisoning 
of the heretics of ' unnatural ’ love, less Grundyism, 
less Comstockery, and, at the same time, less dirty 
Don-Juanism, less of that curiously malignant and 
vengeful love-making so characteristic of the de- 
bauchee under a Christian dispensation. Reacting 
against the absurdities of the old mythology, the 
young have run into absurdities no less inordinate at 
the other end of the scale. A sordid and ignoble 
realism offers no resistance to the sexual impulse, 
which now spends itself purposelessly, without pro- 
ducing love, or even, in the long-run, amusement, 
without enhancing vitality or quickening and deepen- 



1 14 FASHIONS IN LOVE 

ing the rhythms of living. Only a new mythology of 
nature, such as, in modem times, Blake, Robert 
Bums, and Lawrence have defined it, an untran- 
scendental and (relatively speaking) realistic myth- 
ology of Energy, Life, and Human Personality, will 
provide, it seems to me, the inward resistances 
necessary to turn sexual impulse into love, and 
provide them in a form which the critical intelligence 
of Post-Nietzschean youth can respect. By means 
of such a conception a new fashion in love may be 
created, a mode more beautiful and convenient, more 
healthful and elegant, than any seen among men 
since the days of remote and pagan antiquity. 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY, OR 
THE TWO HUMILITIES 


St. Francis we call him. But the little poor man of 
Assisi, the littlest of the littler brothers — that was 
what he liked to call himself. Humbly. He believed 
in being humble. He was proud of his humility. 

Now, humility is an excellent thing, so long as it's 
the right sort of humility. And so is the right sort 
of pride. But what are the right sorts of humility 
and pride? They are the sorts, it is evident, of 
which I approve. But are they anything else? I 
do not know, but I hope so. In the following pages 
I have set down the reasons for my hopes. Mean- 
while, let me say at once that I don't like either the 
humbleness of the little poor man, or his pride. 
If I were in the habit of using clerical phraseology, I 
should say that they were not ' true ' pride, ' true ' 
humility. For True Pride, my brethren, is surely 
unmixed with vanity. I dislike vain people as much 
as I like those who are proud of their humanity and 
know how to stick up for their human rights and 
dignity. Was Francis's pride of the true variety? 

* Cum e$$et gloriosus animoj in the words of a con- 
temporary, ' et nollet aliquem se pracceller&* I doubt 
it. All his history testifies to his vanity. His youth- 
ful dissipations, for example — ^what drove him into 
those? Pure snobbery. To be debauched was a 
sign then, as in later times, of nobility. Vain, the 
son of a shopkeeper, he was ambitious to outspend, 
outdrink, outroar, and outfomicate the choicest imps 
of the Umbrian nobiHty, And when he was a 
1 15 



ri6 FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 

prisoner of war at Perugia, in 1202, ' You '11 see,' he 
was wont to say to his companions, ' one day I shall 
be worshipped by the whole world.' Later, he found 
in dreams of knight-errantry imaginary compensa- 
tions for the middle-class reality of his existence. 
An opportunity to realize these dreams in actual life 
presented itself; Francis seized it. He ordered at 
great expense a sumptuous knight-errant's trousseau. 
His appearance in it was dazzling. ' I know,' he said 
prophetically, ' that I shall become a great prince.' 
And with that he rode out of Assisi to join the expedi- 
tion of Walter de Brienne in Apulia. He rode twenty 
miles, as far as Spoleto, and then, after one day's 
knight-errantry, returned to the paternal roof, 
Sabatier suggests that he was ' ragged ' by his noble 
companions. It is very possible. For some time 
after the ni-fated expedition he seems, at any rate, to 
have lived in a state of pained retrospective shame 
and brooding humiliation. But little by little the 
old passion reasserted itself. To be ' a great prince,' 
to be ‘ worshipped by the whole world,' to allow 
nobody to excel him. But how should he realize 
these longings? He had tried the knightly way and 
failed, ignominiously. In his misery he turned to 
religion, and there, in religion, discovered a new field 
for achieving the personal distinction for which his 
soul so ardently and incessantly longed. The world 
refused to recognize him as Assisi's greatest soldier. 
V ery well. It should recognize him as Assisi’s greatest 
man of God. 

Between the modem professional sportsman and a 
certain type of Christian ascetic there is an extra- 
ordinary resemblance. The Lausiac History reads 
like a record of post-war athletics. Eremitic life in 
the Thebaid was an affair of record-making and 
record-breaking. Brother A only washes on Easter 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


1x7 


Mondays. Very well; Brother B will not wash at 
all- Brother C lives on one onnce of bread per diem 
and fasts three days a week. The emulous Brother D 
goes into training and ends by being able to fast four 
days a week, and to live on an even smaller ration 
for the remaining three. Brother X sets up a world's 
record by drinking only as much water as condenses 
each night in the form of dew on a smaU sponge. 
And so on. We might be in the world whose activities 
are recorded on the sporting pages of evening papers. 

It is worthy of remark that modern record-breakers 
have been ready to undergo almost greater hardships 
for the sake of money or, more often, of mere news- 
paper celebrity than the monks of the Thebaid under- 
went for the sake — nominally, at any rate^ — of their 
religious principles. Contemporary professional fas- 
ters have beaten the ascetics hollow. And is there 
anything in Palladius to compare with the achieve- 
ment of those American dancing-couples, who keep 
up their non-stop fox-trotting for days at a stretch? 

St. Francis was something of a record-breaker. He 
was happy in that private consciousness of having 
done something uniquely arduous, which is the Alpine 
climber's reward for all his labours. When he had 
kissed the leper, he felt like the first man up the 
Aiguille Mummery. But the approval of his own 
conscience was not enough ; Francis could never forget 
his desire to be ' a great prince,' to be acclaimed by 
all the world. He revelled in the publicity which his 
almsgiving and afterwards his church-repairing, his 
theatrical renunciation of his patrimony, his begging 
and his ascetic practices brought him. He had not 
been able to make a success of knight-errantry ; but 
to suffer voluntarily was within his powers. He could 
achieve celebrity and break records in asceticism and 
self-abasement, and in nothing else. Hence his 



ii8 FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 

admiration for self-abasement and asceticism. Per- 
fection, he told Brother Leo, is not in miracles, not 
in science, not in converting the heathen (he had 
achieved no success in any of these departments), but 
in being shut out by the porter in the wet and cold of 
a winter night, in suffering voluntarily. Particularly, 
he might have added, in public. His disciples were 
instructed to call him names and reproach him with 
his sins in the presence of the congregation. I'he 
record-brealcing was to have a numerous audience. 
There are some people whose ruling passion is pub- 
licity. They will go to any lengths in order to be 
talked of. It is not uncommon to read in the Ameri- 
can papers of adolescents who have committed 
burglaries, hold-ups, and even murders for the sake 
of ' getting into the news.' The motives which drive 
these youths to crime drove Francis to sanctity. 
Luckily for himself and perhaps also for the Western 
world, he had a fxmdamentally virtuous temperament. 
But a virtuous temperament is a negative thing, 
Francis would never have fulfilled his yearnings for 
celebrity, would never have been canonized or even 
heard of, if he had been merely virtuous. He was 
also a man of power; there was a daemon in him, 
and he spoke as one having authority. To those 
who speak in that way men listen, * Such was the 
devotion in which he was held,' writes Thomas of 
Spoleto, describing the Saint's visit to Bologna in 
1220, ‘ that men and women followed him in crowds, 
and any one who succeeded in touching the hem of 
his garment esteemed himself happy.' Happy, too, 
must the man have esteemed himself whose youthful 
ambition it was to be 'worshipped by the whole 
world.' Success enhanced, if not the actual power 
that was in him, at any rate his sense of it. 

This is how the Httlest of the Ettler brothers 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


119 

addressed the future Gregory ix when, at the Ch|bpter 
of 1218, that statesmanlike cleric suggested that 
Francis would do well to give more weight to the 
learned members of the community, an<J should 
model his policy on that of the older monastic orders, 
' The Lord has called me by the way of simplicity and 
humility. In them He has shown me the truth for 
me and for those who would believe and imitate me. 
So do not speak to me of the rule of St. Benedict, of 
St. Augustine, of St. Bernard, or any other, but only 
of that which God in His mercy has seen fit to reveal 
to me, and of which He has told me that He meant,, 
in it, to make a new pact with the world, and He does 
not wish that we should have any other. But 
through your learning and wisdom God will confound 
you. For the rest, I am confident that God will 
chastise you.’ Such is Francis’s * way of humility ' I 
One likes him when he treads this way. For power, 
the native power of the individual spirit, is always 
admirable and beautiful, so long as it is not abused. 
There were occasions when Francis did abuse his 
power, when he seems to have employed it for the 
mere fun of feeling himself powerful and a ' great 
prince ’ — as when, for example, he humiliated poor 
Masseo because he was so handsome and clever, or 
when, in Cyprus, on their way to Egypt, he compelled 
Brother Barbaro to eat a gobbet of ass's dung for 
having spoken ill of a companion. These are instances 
of mere bullying, not at all worthy of a ' great prince.' 

But for the most part Francis used his power more 
nobly. When he used it ' agin the government,' 
anarchically, or to bring down the pride, to puncture 
the fat complacency, of the rich and learned, one can 
only delight in its manifestations. And how melan- 
choly is the spectacle of poor Francis, at the end of 
his career, renouncing ins power in the name of 



120 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


obedience to authority, betraying his daemon of 
individual anarchy to the gross and beastly forces of 
organized society ! He tried hard to persuade himsel f 
that he did right in giving in to the Church. ' A man 
gives up all he has, a man loses his life * (Jesus had told 
his disciples that they must lose their lives if tliey 
would gain life) ' when he places himself entirely in 
the hands of his superior and renders him obeflieiice. 
And when the inferior sees things that would be better 
or more useful for his soul than those his superior 
commands him, let him make the sacrifice of his will 
to God.' But in his heart he knew that all tliis, so far 
as he himself was concerned, was a sophistry and that 
he had done wrong to betray the daemon in him. 
A man may eat dung voluntarily — for a bet, to break 
a record or please his God, for the pleasure of asserting 
his will in the conquest of instinctive disgust — and not 
be defiled, not be outraged; may even feel himself 
strengthened and ennobled by doing so, may eat it 
with joy. It was with joy that Francis had kissed the 
leper’s rotting hand. But Brother Barbaro had been 
commanded to eat the ass’s dung; and now, in his 
turn, at the autumn Chapter of 1220, Francis was 
being treated as he had treated Barbaro. Rcltict* 
antly, against his wiU, he ate dirt. For him, the man 
of power, the man with a daemon in him, it was an 
infamy. So long as it %vas a matter of obeying his own 
will, he found humility admirable. So long as he 
wanted to abase himself, he liked abasing himself. 
But to submit to other people’s will against his own 
desires — that was a very different matter.^ 

^ When Francis resigned his control of the order, what were 
his feelings ? Sabatier says one thing, Goetz another. I 
follow Sabatier — partly because I think hi.s version, psycho- 
logically, more probable, but chiehy (alas for Historical 
Truth !) because it makes a better story and fits in more aptly 
with what I wanted to say I 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


I2I 


To abase yourself on principle, because such is your 
will, to mortify your flesh and thwart your instincts in 
order to assert your conscious personality — is this 
humility? It sounds to me more like the will to 
power. But the self-abasement, the service? They 
are accidental, not essential. If Francis had made a 
success of bis soldiering, his will to power would have 
expressed itself in the violent domination of others. 
The assertion of the personal will is as much the 
essence of the saint's ascetic humility as it is of the 
Roman's dignity and pride. Et mihi res, non me 
rebus, subjungere conor, is a motto which Francis 
might have made his own. It is a motto, indeed, 
which any one might adopt; for it is an excellent 
motto. A man ought to strive to subdue things 
to himself — ‘reckoning among * things ' his own body 
and his own instincts, and giving to his conscious will 
the name of ‘ self.' He ought — at any I'ate for part 
of the time. But there are also occasions — and this 
is what the Franr:iscan, no less than the Roman, no 
less^ than the Samuel-Smilcsian, morality refuses to 
admit—when a man ought to permit himself to be 
subdued to things. There are occasions when it is 
right tiiat he should sacrifice his will, his conscious 
desire to dominate exterior circumstances and the 
instinctive an<l pa.ssional forces of his own being; there 
arc times when that which is divine in him, the Life, 
demands this sacrifice. The greatest sins, perhaps 
the only sins, are the sins against Life. Those who 
strive consistently to subdue things to themselves 
infallibly commit these sins. For among the ' things ' 
which they subdue are e.sscntial elements of their own 
living selves. They sacrifice the whole for that small 
part of their being which has intellectually formulated 
principles and a conscious will. To be humble and 
virtuous in the Franciscan style a man must deliber- 



122 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


ately and consistently subdue things to self. He 
must never forget to be spiritual, he must never relax 
his wiU; he must unremittingly eschew all passion 
and the things of the flesh. That is to say, he must 
sacrifice one half of his being to the other. But is it 
not possible to imagine a better because a less mur- 
derous virtue, a humility less suspiciously like the will 
to power? The saint and the stoic agree in being 
humble towards ' themselves.’ But ought there not 
to be, at the same time, a compensating humility 
towards * things ’ ? 

For Francis such a humility would have seemed 
merely wicked. The Church might feel a little 
dubious about his doctrine, but not about his morality ; 
he was orthodoxly holy. Good Christians have at all 
times, inconsistently, practised humility to things; 
but none but heretics have preached it. The Russian 
Khlyst, for example. 

Grigory Rasputin, the sect’s most recent and most 
remarkable saint, preached ‘ salvation through .sin.’ 
Human beings, he taught, must humble their spiritual 
pride before the ’ lower ’ elements of their natures, 
must yield themselves to circumstances and to the 
impulses, the feelings, which circumstances evoke in 
them. Those who aspire to be consistently ’ good ’ 
and * spiritual,’ those whose ambition it is to lead, at 
all times, and according to fixed principles, the con- 
sciously willed ‘ higher life,' are possessed by a 
Luciferian pride; for they are striving, in their 
hybristic insolence, to be more than human. But 
Christianity enjoins humility. Let the spirit, there- 
fore, abase itself before the flesh, the will before the 
impulsions of instinct, the intellect before the passions. 
To abandon oneself to sin is the truest humility. And 
when one has sinned one must repent. For repent- 
ance is pleasing to God, and without repentance is no 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


T25 

salvation. But without sin there can be no repent- 
ance. Therefore . . . The conclusion is obvious. 
Desiring salvation, Rasputin practised what he 
preached, and sinned — most conspicuously, as was 
the custom of the Khlysty, in relation to the seventh 
commandment. 

At the beginning of his career he seems to have 
sinned in a not unpleasingly Panic and Arcadian 
manner. But later, when he had exchanged the 
country for the town and had become the most 
influential man in Russia, the primitive candour 
evaporated and from innocent his sinning became 
civilizedly sophisticated and, if we can believe the 
stories told of him, sordid and rather dirty. A great 
many of these stories are obviously such lies as always 
crystallize round the name of any extraordinary man 
after it has remained long enough soaking in the 
malodorous imagination of the respectable bour- 
geoisie. But, after making all necessary discounts, 
there is, I think, good evidence that the Staretz 
degenerated in proportion as he achieved success. 
To the pastoral orgies of his youth his later urban 
misbehaviours stand in much the same relation as 
an eighteenth-century Black Mass or fashionable 
Witches' Sabbath to the old pre-Christian fertility 
cult, of which mediaeval witchcraft was the steadily 
degenerating, the more and more self-consciously 
wicked, survival. 

You may disapprove of Rasputin personally. 
(And after reading Fiilop-Miller's impartial and 
tolerably well documented biography, it is difficult 
to disapprove very violently. The Staretz turns out 
to have been, on the whole, a sympathetic character. 
At any rate, one cannot fail to like and admire him a 
million times more than any of the aristocratic rogues, 
fools, weaklings and neurasthenics, in the midst of 
E 



124 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


whom he accomplished his extraordinary destiny. 
At least Rasputin was a man. A power, moreover. 
A man with a daemon in his belly. And daemons 
are always admirable.) Anyhow, whatever may be 
your disapproval of Grigory the man, Grigory the 
moral philosopher is a personage who must be taken 
seriously. For he propounds an alternative to the 
Christian ethic ; he preaches a moral heresy which it 
is difficult, if one has any sense of psychological 
realities, not to prefer, in many respects, to the 
moral orthodoxy of Christendom and contemporary 
Businessdom. 

That the Khlysty were Christian heretics is un- 
fortunate, For it meant that all their thinking was 
necessarily done in terms of the orthodoxy from 
which they differed. Thus, they assumed as an 
axiom the absurd Christian dualism of mind and 
matter, wicked flesh and good spirit. Their ritual, 
which should have been joyously and spontaneously 
dionysiac, was liable, in consequence, to degenerate 
into a self-consciously naughty misbehaviour. Tiiey 
talked of life and religion, they lived the one and 
performed the ritual actions of the other, in terms of 
sin and repentance and posthumous salvation. The 
significance of their teaching is in this way largely 
obscured. We should, however, try to separate the 
substance of the doctrine from its unfortunately 
Christian form. That substance can be expressed in 
the Latin poet's hexameter, slightly modified for the 
occasion. Et mih% res, et me rebus subjun^ere Conor, 
I strive to subdue things to myself and also, when 
occasion demands, myself to things. Such is Grigory's 
humility. 

It is unnecessary for me to enumerate ail the 
advantages of occasionally subjugating the con- 
sciously willing self to ' things ' — or^ in other words, 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


^25 

to outside circumstances and the immediate reactions 
to those circumstances of the instinctive and passional 
side of the personality. We are bom with a nature 
composed of certain elements. If we refuse to admit 
the right of some of these elements to exist, it we try 
to suppress them, they will first rebel and then, if we 
are successful in our essays at murder, will atrophy 
and decay, setting up a kind of spiritual blood- 
poisoning. A system of morality that results in 
blood-poisoning, and even idealizes the state of 
chronic blood-poisoning as the perfect life, is surely 
not the best that human ingenuity can devise. We 
are justified in preferring the morality which teaches 
the subjugation of the self to things as well as of 
things to the self, and which, in this way, guarantees 
not only social efficiency (for good citizenship is almost 
entirely a matter of subduing things to self), but also 
completenc.ss and health of individual life. 

La Fontaine has summed up the whole matter in 
one of the best of his fables — that of the two 
philosophical gardeners, the Greek and the Scythian. 

The Greek prunes his trees for their good. 

J'ote le superflu, dit Tautre; et, Fabattant, 

Le rcsie en proiite autant. 

The Scythian returns to his triste demmre and sets 
himself to imitate his colleague. With what excess 
of zeal I 

II ote de chez lui les branches les plus belles 
II tronque sou verger centre toute raison . . . 

Tout languit et tout meurt. 

Ce Scythe exprime bien 
Un indiscret stoicicn : 

Celui-ci retranche de TAme 
D^sirs et passions, le bon et le mauvais, 

Jus<|u"aux plus innocents souhaits 
Contre de telles gens, quant i moi, je reclame. 

II s dtent k nos coeurs le principal ressort ; 

Ils font cesser de vivre avant que Ton soit mort. 



126 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


And by condemning us to a living death, he might 
have added, they condemn us also to a premature 
decay. Mortification of the flesh, in the religious 
sense of the term, results in a mortification of the soul 
that is only too distressingly medical — in a spiritual 
gangrene, a putrefaction, a stink. 

The Khlysty principles have a more than merely 
ethical application. They are also of significance for 
the artist, both for the artist in life and for the pro- 
fessional creator. No man can live — richly and 
harmoniously live — no man can beautifully create, 
who does not sometimes subdue himself to things — to 
the unknown modes of being of the external world 
and of his own unconsciousness. jModern ' nature- 
worship ' springs from a recognition of this lact. 
‘ Come forth,' said Wordsworth, 

Come forth, and bring with you a heart 
That watches and receives. 

If he had always acted on his own advice, instead of 
coming forth with a heart full of AnglicanisTii and 
middle-class respectability, he would have been a 
better poet. 

Nature- worship is a modem, artificial, and some- 
what precarious invention of refined minds. Ad- 
mirable, but somehow, in too many instances, rathcT 
ridiculous in being so refined, so rootiessly high-class. 
In the woods of Dorking, Meredith has tlic air of a 
whiskered Marie Antoinette, playing at being a 
shepherdess. The Greeks were not Wordsworthians 
or Meredithians ; they never went for walking tours 
nor wasted their energies unnecessarily climl>ing to 
the tops of mountains. Nevertheless, their religion 
kept them more intimately in touch with the alien 
world of external things and the (to the con.sciou.s will 
and intellect) hardly less alien inner world of in- 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


127 


slinctive and passional reactions to things, than all 
the high-class nature-worship of the moderns could 
have done. Their ritual put them into a direct 
physical and emotional relationship with the forces 
of nature — forces which their mythology had repre- 
sented anthropomorphically, indeed, but in the like- 
ness of man the darkly passionate and desirous being 
as well as in that of man the conscious, the spiritual, 
the intellectual. The modern nature-worshipper's 
God is apt to be visualized too exclusively as homo 
sapiens — and sapiens to the nth. degree. 

St. Francis is often hailed as the first nature- 
worshipper to appear in Europe since the time of 
the Greeks. It is a claim which the facts do not 
make good. Mediaeval Europe was full of genuine 
nature- worshippers, and St. Francis was not one of 
them. The genuine nature-worshippers were the 
followers of that old, pre-Christian religion which 
lingered on through ail the Middle Ages in the form of 
witchcraft and its elaborate organization, its tra- 
ditional rites. A cult of fertility, the old religion 
existed to establish between the human soul and 
the souls of animals, of plants and places, of the 
seasons and the sun, a direct paiticipative com- 
munion. The people who attended the Sabbaths 
were not sophisticated walking-tourers with high-class 
pantheistic feelings about the beauty spots of the 
Lake District. In spite of this, however, or perhaps 
because of it, they were better nature-worshippers 
than the best Wordsworthians of them all. 

Francis lacked the advantages which he might have 
derived from a sound pagan upbringing among the 
sorcerers. His family was orthodoxly Christian. 
The ritual communion with things was unknown to 
him. Like Wordsworth, he had to invent his own 
nature-worship, to produce it by a sort of spiritual 



128 FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 

conjuring trick out of a vacuum. Reading his life, 
one sees that his conjuring trick only very imper- 
fectly ' came off.' Inevitably. For Francis was not 
prepared to subjugate himself to things; he utterly 
lacked the humility of those who can submit them- 
selves passively, for a season, to alien influences; he 
was too proudly wilful ever to allow his soul to 
participate in unknown modes of being. 

Modern writers have praised him for his charming 
sympathy with animals. It is a praise, if w^e can 
credit the testimony of the original documents, most 
strangely misdirected. The fact that Francis called 
donkeys his brothers and bullfinches his sisters is not 
enough in itself to prove that he lived in any kind of 
fraternal communion with his adopted iamily. Let 
me quote, in this context, a story from the Ftoretii of 
Brother Juniper, ' one of the most elect disciples . . . 
a man of great fervour and charity, of whom St. 
Francis said, He would be a good Brother Minor, 
who had conquered himself and the world like Brother 
Juniper." ' Here is the anecdote, a little abridged. 

‘ On a time at St. Mary of the Angels, when, ail alire 
with the love of God, he was visiting a sick broth<3r, 
he asked him, with much compassion, Can I do thee 
any service? " Replied the sick man, “ IMucIi com- 
fort would it give me, if thou couldst give me a pig's 
trotter to eat." Straightway cried Brother Juniper, 
" Leave that to me ; Til fetch thee one at once." So 
he went and took a knife and, in fervour of spirit, ran 
through the wood, where divers pigs were feeding, 
threw himself on one of them, cut off its foot and ran 
away, leaving the pig with feet so maimed; and he 
washed and dressed and cooked the foot . . , and 
brought it to the sick man with much charity. And 
the sick man ate it up right greedily, to tlic great 
comfort and delight of Brother Juniper; who, with 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


T29 


great glee, for to glad the heart ot this man, told him 
of the assault he had made on the pig. Meanwhile 
the swineherd had gone to tell his master h%s version 
of Brother Juniper’s exploit ; who, when he had heard 
it, came in a great rage to the house of the Brothers 
and called them hypocrites, thieves and bars, and 
rogues and knaves/' saying, “ Why have ye cut off 
the foot of my pig? " St. Francis with ail humility 
made excuses " and promised to restore all that he 
had lost." But tor all that he was not appeased, but 
went away full of anger. St. Francis said within his 
heart, " Can Brother Juniper have done this thing, in 
zeal too indiscreet ? " ' Accordingly he questioned 
Juniper, who, ' not as one that had made a fault, but 
as one that seemed to himself to have done an act of 
great charity, all gladly answered and said : " Sweet 
my Father, it is true that I cut off a foot from the 
said pig. . . . And bearing in mind the consolation our 
sick brother felt, and the comfort that the said foot 
brought him, if 1 had cut off the feet of a hundred pigs 
as I did of one, in very sooth, methinks God would 
have said, Well done." ' Upon which St. Francis 
rebuked him severely. ' " Oh Brother Juniper," he 
cried, "'why hast thou given us so great a scandal? 
Not without reason does this man complain." ’ And 
he ordered the erring Brother to go and apologize to 
the pig-master. * Brother Juniper was amazed that 
any one should be angry at so charitable a deed ; for 
it seemed to him that these temporal things were 
naught, save in so far as men in their charity shared 
them with their neighbours. " Why should he be so 
dis(juicted, seeing that this pig, whose foot I cut off, 
is rather God's than his ? * None the less, he did as 

he was told, sought out the pig-master and explained 
the matter ' with such charity and simplicity and 
humility, that this man, coming to himself again, 



£30 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


threw himself on the ground, not without many tears ; 
and, acknowledging the wrong he had done and said 
unto the Brothers, went and caught the pig and killed 
it and, having cooked it, brought it with great 
devotion and much weeping to St. Mary of the Angels 
and gave it to the Brothers to eat, for pity of the 
wrong he had done them. And St. Francis, pondering 
on the simplicity and patience of the said holy Brother 
Juniper in the hour of trial, said to his companions 
and the others standing round : “ Would to God, 
my brothers, that I had a whole forest of such 
Junipers I ’ 

So ends the edifying story. It remains for us to 
draw our conclusions from it. They will not, I am 
afraid, be very favourable to St. Francis. Brother 
Juniper, of course, could not have been expected to 
know any better. All the anecdotes about this per- 
sonage paint him as a half-savage zany entirely 
possessed, since his conversion, by a single idea — the 
idea of Franciscan Christianity. He was too much of 
an imbecile to see that there could be anything in the 
bloody mutilation of a defenceless animal incom- 
patible with the purest charity. To this clown and 
the doubtless equally clovmish Brother, whose longing 
for pig's trotters was the fons et origo of the whole 
incident, the maiming of the pig was not merely a 
commendable act of charity : it was also ex<iuisitely 
humorous. Juniper told the story ' with great glee, 
for to glad the sick man’s heart.' And doubtless any 
half-witted rustic of the thirteenth century would have 
whooped and roared with laughter at the spectacle of 
a pig with only three feet trailing a bleeding stump 
with squeals and groans among the trees. But what 
of Francis? What of the man whom his modern 
biographers have slobbered over with a maudlin, 
vegetarian sentimentality as the £rst animal-lover, 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


131 

the prophet of nature-worship and humanitarianism ? 
We hnd him rebuking the over-zealous Juniper — but 
not for hacking tit-bits off the living swine ; only for 
making a scandal, for getting the monks into trouble 
with the public. Of the pig and its bleeding stump 
of leg and its squealing in the wood he does not think 
at all. It never even occurs to him to tell his imbecile 
disciple that maiming pigs and leaving them to bleed 
is not a perfectly charitable act. On the contrary, he 
finds, when the scandal has been averted, that Juniper 
has behaved quite admirably. ' Would to God that I 
had a whole forest of such Junipers ! ' ' Amen,' 

responded his companions. But the pigs, strangely 
enough, were silent. 

The truth is that Francis was never in any living, 
sympathetic contact with nature. He was too busily 
engaged in using his will power — on other people, in 
making them good; on himself, in being ascetic and 
practising Christian humility — to be able to submit 
himself to the non-human influences from without and 
so participate in the alien life of things. In the sphere 
of pagan nature-worship Francis's wilful humility was 
a stiff-necked pride. He never really liked an animal, 
because he was never prepared to put himself, for a 
moment, in the animal's place. Indeed, the story of 
Brother Juniper's pig shows clearly that Francis was 
quite unconscious that there was a place to put 
himself into. The more famous, because more 
agreeable, story of his sermon to the birds forces on 
us the same conclusion. Reading it attentively, we 
perceive that he never really cared two pins for the 
birds as birds— as creatures, that is to say, entirely 
different from himself, leading an alien and refresh- 
ingly non-human life, about which, however, the 
human being can discover something by patient 
sympathy and humility. So far as we are con- 



132 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


cerned the whole ' point ' of animals is that, in 
Whitman’s words — 

They do not sweat and whine about their condition, ^ 

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, 

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, 

No one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania 
of owning things. 

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived 
thousands of years ago. 

Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth. 

Francis tailed to realize this because, lacking the 
necessary humility, refusing to submit himself to 
things, he could never establish a sympathetic relation- 
ship with creatures whose mode of being was other 
than his own. He talked to the birds as though they 
were respectable and industrious Christians with 
tender consciences and a well-developed theology and 
a strong sense of their duty to God — to Francis's 
God, of course, and not the feathered deity of the 
farmyard and the copse. 

Mr. Chesterton discovers evidence of St. Franci.s’s 
exquisite feeling for nature in his apt attribution of 
sex — as of femininity to Sister Moon and malencss to 
Brother Sun, and so on. More philological ly-minded 
writers, however, have found in these attributions 
nothing more than a tribute to Latin and Italian 
grammar. Luna is grammatically of the feminine 
gender; what more obvious than to call the moon 
* sister ’ ? But let us admit for the sake of argument 
that the Saint had more than merely grammatical 
intentions in calling things by masculine and feminine 
names. The case against grammar is strongest in 
regard to the birds. These he addresses as his sisters, 
in spite of the fact that uccello is masculine — though 
it should be remembered that avis^ in k possibly earlier 
Latin version of the Fior&Ui, is a feminine word. My 
little sisters, the birds.’ Mr. Chesterton would doubt- 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


133 


less applaud. But the drake and the cock-bullfinch, 
the sparrow, the gaudy pheasant, and the arrogantly 
strutting cock — how they would protest against the 
insult ! * Call us your little sisters ? You might as 

well say : My little sisters, the officers of the Grenadier 
Guards.' 

A man misses something by not establishing a 
participative and living relationship with the^ non- 
human world of animals and plants, landscapes and 
stars and seasons. By failing to be, vicariously, the 
not-self, he fails to be completely himself. There can 
be no complete integration of the soul without humility 
towards things as well as a will to subdue them. 
Those who lack that humility are bad artists in life. 

They are also bad artists in art. For the creative 
arts, no less than the art of life, demand of their 
practitioners an alternation of contradictory activities 
— a subjugation of things to self and also of the self to 
things. The artists whose attitude to things is too 
passively humble are only half-creators. There is 
still an element of chaos in what they do ; the lumpy 
material in which they work still clings distortingly to 
the form they are trying to extract from it. They 
are either the slaves of appearances (like the feebler 
impressionists) ; or else, slaves of passion and feeling, 
they protest too much (as the feebler Elizabethans and 
romantics too much protested) and so fail utterly, in 
spite, or because, of their hysterical emotionalism, to 
create a moving work. For, by an apparent paradox, 
artists who abandon themselves too unreservedly to 
passion are unable to create passion — only its parody, 
or at the best a wild, grotesque extravagance. The 
history of literature shows that the extreme romantic 
style is suitable only for Gargantuan comedy, not 
tragedy ; for the delineation of enormous absurdity, 
not enormous passion. 



134 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


The attempt artistically to present life in the 
raw, so to speak, results almost invariably in the 
production of something lifeless. Things must to 
some extent be subdued to the generalizing, abstract- 
ing, rationalizing intellect ; otherwise the work of art, 
of which these things are the material, will lack 
substantiality and even — however faithfully direct 
impressions may be recorded — life. Examples of the 
lifelessness of works whose closeness to actuality might 
have been expected to give them vitality may be 
found in abundance. In their anxiety to catch the 
actual luminous appearance of things, the impres- 
sionists allowed all substantiality to evaporate from 
their creations; the world in their pictures lost its 
body and died. Or take the case of the Goncourts in 
literature : it is when they transcribe most faithfully 
from their only too well-filled notebooks that their 
novels become most lifeless. As a contemporary ex- 
ample we may cite the work of Miss Dorothy Richard- 
son. Her microscopic fidelity to the psychological 
facts defeats its own ends. Reduced to the elementary 
and atomic condition, her personages fade out of 
existence as integrated human beings. A similar 
fate has attended the creations of the SurnSalistcs. 
They have presented us, not with the finished product 
of creative thought, but with the dream-like in- 
coherencies which creative thought uses as its raw 
material. It is the statue that lives, not the stone. 

But if too much humility towards ‘ things ' is fatal 
to art, so also is too much arrogance. To protest too 
little in the name of some moral or aesthetic stoicism 
is as bad as to protest too much. The art of those 
slaves of appearances who lack the force or the will to 
organize the chaos of immediate experience is always 
imperfect ; but not more so than the art of those who 
aspire to organize it too much, of those who are not 



FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


135 


content till they have substituted for nature's infinite 
variety, nature's quickness and vividness and softness, 
nature's sliding lines and subtly curving or arbitrarily 
broken surfaces, the metallic and rigorous simplicity 
of a few abstract geometrical forms. Wliole epochs 
of literary and artistic history have been afflicted by 
the geometrizing mania. The French Grand Siecle, 
for example — an age, it is true, that produced genuinely 
grand works (for after all, if a man has a sufficiency 
of force and talent, he can create fine things out of the 
most unpromising materials and in the teeth of almost 
any resistance), but which might have produced yet 
grander ones if its aesthetic theory had not been so 
insistently haunted by the shade of Euclid. Geometry 
is doubtless an e.-xellent thing; but a well-composed 
landscape with figui'es is still better. At the present 
time literature is perhaps insufficiently geometrical. 
It protests too much ; it abandons itself too passively 
to appearances ; it is excessively interested in the raw 
material of thought and imagination, and not enough 
in the working up of that material into perfected 
forms. With contemporary painting, however, the 
ci\so is different. Reacting against impressionism on 
the one hand and a conventionally realistic literariness 
on the other, the most self-consciously talented of 
modern painters deliberately transformed their art 
into a branch of geometry. The possibilities of 
cubism in its strictest form were, however, soon 
exhausted. There has been a general return to 
representation — but to a representation still much too 
arrogantly geometrical in its studied omissions and 
distortions. Art is still insufficiently humble before 
its subject-matter. Painters insist on subjecting the 
outer world too completely to their abstracting and 
geometrizing intellects. A kind of aesthetic asceti- 
cism prevents them from enjoying whole-heartedly 



136 


FRANCIS AND GRIGORY 


and without afterthought the loveliness so profusely 
offered by the world about them. It is on principle 
that they subdue their feeling for nature, as a stoic 
or a monk subdues his passions. Tyrannically, they 
impose their will on things ; they substitute arbitrary 
forms of their own fabrication for the almost invariably 
much subtler and lovelier forms with which their 
direct experience presents them. The result, it seems 
to me, has been an impoverishment, a deadening of 
the art. There are welcome signs that the painters 
themselves are coming to the same conclusion. At 
any rate, they seem to be repenting a little of their 
asceticism ; they seem to be abating a little of their 
geometrician's arrogance ; they are cultivating a 
certain humility towards things. Old Renoir summed 
up the truth about painting in one oracular sentence. 
* Un peintre, voyez-vous, qui a le sentiment des fosses 
et du teton, e'est un homme sauv6.* Saved — but 
by Grigory's ' salvation through sin,' by a subjugation 
of the self to things, by a total humility before that 
divine and mysterious nature, of which breasts and 
buttocks are but a part — ^though doubtless, from our 
all too human point of view, a peculiarly important 
part. For this ' sentiment des fesses et du t6ton ' is 
simply a special case of the sentiment of nature, and 
the embrace of consummated love is the communion 
of the self with the not-seif, the Wordsworthian 
participation with unknown modes of being, in its 
most intense and completest form. 

The artist, then, like the man, is saved through sin. 
But he is also saved through siniessness — saved by 
the subjugation of things to self no less than by that 
of the self to things. Francis and Grigory are both 
right and both wrong. Each separately leads astray ; 
but together and in their mutual contradiction they 
are the best of guides. 



BAUDELAIRE 


Inasmuch as he pursues an absolute, the absolute 
of evil, ‘ Le d6bauch6 est un grand philosophe/ 
(The mot is attributed to the moderately eminent 
French metaphysician, Jules Lachelier.) The de- 
bauchee is a great philosopher. As it stands, the 
assertion is a little too sweeping; it needs qualifica- 
tion. No doubt, the debauchee was a great philo- 
sopher, once. But ever since the day of Hume he has 
ceased to be a great philosopher and become a rather 
silly one. For though it may be sublime to pursue 
the demonstrably unattainable, it is also ridiculous. 
A man may spend a laborious and ascetic lifetime 
writing books on the selenography of the back-side 
of the moon; we may admire his single-mindedness 
(if single-mindedness happens to be a quality that 
strikes us as being admirable), but we must also laugh 
at his folly. To pursue the absolute is as demonstrably 
a waste of time as to speculate on the topography of 
the invisible portions of the moon. Inasmuch as he 
attempts to rationalize an absolute wickedness, the 
debauchee may be something of a heroic figure. But 
he is also something of a figure of fun. And as a 
philosopher he is, in spite of Professor Lachelier, silly. 

Even the sublimest of the satanists are a little 
ridiculous. For they are mad, all mad ; and, however 
tragical and appalling their insanity may be, madmen 
are always ridiculous. Ridiculous in their enormous 
unawareness, in their blindness, in the fixity of their 
moods, their iron consistency, their unvarying re- 
actions to all that appeals to their mania. Ridiculous, 
3^37 



138 BAUDELAIRE 

in a word, because they are inhuman. And similarly, 
even the sublimest satanists (and with them, of course, 
their looking-glass counterparts, the sublimest saints) 
are ridiculous as well as grand, because they share 
with the madman (and deliberately share) his partial 
blindness, his stiffness, his strained and focussed and 
unwavering fixity of monomaniacal purpose, his 
inhumanity. 

The contrary and at the same time the complement 
of inhuman rigidity and consistency is a certain 
inhuman liberty. Concentrated on his one idea, the 
madman is out of contact with everything else. He 
loses all touch with reality, and so is free from those 
limitations which the necessity of making vital 
adjustments to the outside world imposes on the sane. 
In spite of their rigid consistency of thought and 
action, or rather because of it, the saint and the 
satanist are free, like the madman, to disregard every- 
thing but their fixed idea. Often this idea is of a kind 
which prevents them from having anything like tlie 
normal physical relationship with their fellows and 
with the world at large. When this happens, their 
inhuman liberty is complete, manifest in ail its ghastly 
grotesqueness. What happens when the intellect 
and imagination are allowed to break away completely 
from the wholesome control of the body and the 
instincts is illustrated with incomparable power by 
Dostoievsky. Take, for example. The Possessed, 
In the whole of that extraordinary and horrible 
novel (and the same is true of all Dostoievsky's books) 
there is not one single character who has a decent 
physical relationship with any one or any thing what- 
soever. Dostoievsky's people do not even cat 
normally, much less make love, or work, or enjoy 
nature. That would be much too easy and obvious 
for such parvenus of inteHigence and consciousness as 



BAUDELAIRE 


139 


the Russians. Commonplace love, mere creative 
labour, vulgar enjoyment of real sensuous beauty — 
these are activities neither ' spiritual ' nor ‘ sinful ' 
enough for newly-conscious Christians, and altogether 
too * irrational ' to satisfy ex-moujiks suddenly en- 
riched with all the gradually accumulated cultural 
wealth of Europe. Dostoievsky's characters are 
typical Russian parvenus to consciousness. Unre- 
strained by the body, their intellect and imagination 
have become at once licentious and monomaniacal. 
And when at last they feel impelled to put their wild, 
unrestrained imaginings into practice — for it is im- 
possible to go on staring at one's own navel without in 
the long-run becoming a trifle bored — what happens ? 
They go and commit suicide, or murder, or rape, 
according to the turn their monomanias happen to 
have taken. How tragic it all is ! But also how 
stupid and grotesque 1 If Stavrogin could have gone 
to bed with women he liked, instead of sleeping, on 
satanically ascetic principles, with women he detested; 
if Kirillov had had a wife and a job of decent work; 
if Pyotr Stcpanovitch had ever looked with pleasure 
at a landscape or played with a kitten, — none of these 
tragedies, these fundamentally ludicrous and idiotic 
tragedies, would have taken place. The horrors that 
darken The Possessed and the other novels of Dos- 
toievsky are tragedies of menial licentiousness. All 
DOwStoievsky's characters (and Dostoievsky himself, 
one suspects, was rather like them) have licentious 
minds, utterly unrestrained by their bodies. They 
are all emotional onanists, wildly indulging themselves 
in the void of imagination. Occasionally they grow 
tired of their masturbations and try to make contact 
with the world. But they have lost all sense or 
reality, all knowledge of human values. All their 
attempts to realize their onanistic dreaming in 



140 


BAUDELAIRE 


practice result in catastrophe. It is inevitable. But 
however agonizing they may be (and Dostoievsky 
spares us nothing), these tragedies, I repeat, are 
fundamentally ludicrous and idiotic. They are the 
absurdly unnecessary tragedies of self-made madmen. 
We suffer in sympathy, but against our will ; after- 
wards we must laugh. For these tragedies are 
nothing but stupid farces that have been carried too 
far. 

Robert Burns, after Chaucer the least pretentious 
and portentous, the most completely and harmoniously 
human of all English poets, understood this well. 
His ' Address to the Deil ’ has for epigraph two 
tremendous lines from Paradise Lost : 

O Prince ! O Chief of many throndd powers 
That led th' embattled Seraphim to war 1 

The words go rumbling through the spaces of the 
Miltonic universe, reverberate in fearful thunder 
from the roof of hell, in solemn and celestial music 
from sphere after crystal^ sphere ; but when at last 
they strike the earth, what very strange and even 
indecorous echoes are returned 1 

O Thou I whatever title suit thoc, 

Auld Homie, Satan, Nick, or Clootus, 

Wha in you cavern grim and sootie, 

Closed under hatches, 

Spairges about the bfunstane cootie, 

To scaud poor wretches I 

It is the voice of humanity, of sane and humorous 
and unpretentious humanity, that speaks. Larger 
than life and half as natural, Milton declaims the 
potent charms that call up Satan from the abyss; 
saint and fiend, they stand together, a pair of twins. 
They are sublime, but for that very reason ridiculous. 



BAUDELAIRE 


141 

For the Chief of many thion^d powers is also a comic 
character, grotesque, like some too villainous villain 
in an old melodrama — like some too virtuous hero, for 
that matter. 

And the lesser satanists are like their masters. 
Don Juan, Cain, HeathclifE, Stavrogin — they are all 
of them figures of fun, in spite of their sublimity, or 
rather because of it. And the satanists of real life 
are almost as ridiculous as the satanists of literature. 
Almost; but not quite, because, unless he is stark, 
staring mad, the living satanist is never so stiffly 
consistent, never so utterly free from the normal 
human restraints, as the satanist in books. It is 
only when satanists fail to live up to the satanic 
character that we can take them seriously — for it is 
then that they begin to be human. VVTien they 
sublimely succeed, we are compelled to laugh. 
' Laughter,' said Baudelaire, * is satanic.' Some 
laughter, perhaps. But by no means all. There is a 
whole gamut of humorous and unferocious laughter 
that is entirely and characteristically human. And I 
suspect that it was precisely this human laughter 
that Baudelaire, the satanist, described as satanic. 
His values were reversed. The mirth which men like 
Chaucer or Burns would have found friendly in its 
quality of humanness, Baudelaire necessarily found 
hostile and fiendish. For if the devil is man's worst 
enemy, man is also the devil's. The most powerful 
solvent of satanic as of any other superhuman pre- 
tentions is the good-humoured laughter of human 
beings. Call the devil Nick or Auld Hornie, and 
he loses immediately all his impressiveness and half 
his formidablencss. Hence Baudelaire's hatred of 
laughter ; from his satanic point of view it was indeed 
diabolical. Satan must be dignified at all costs. In 
his superb and portentous carapace there must be 



142 


BAUDELAIRE 


no chink through which the shafts of men's mirth can 
enter. The laughter-proof armour in which Baude- 
laire passed his life was a * sober dandyism ' of dress, 
a frigidly aristocratic manner, a more than English 
coldness. His clothes, according to Theophile Gautier, 
had * un cachet voulu de simplicitd anglaise et comme 
Tintention de se separer du genre artiste.' ‘ Con- 
trairement aux mceurs un peu ddbrailMes dcs artistes, 
Baudelaire se piquait de garder les plus <5troites con- 
venances, et sa politesse 6tait excessive jusqu'a 
paraitre mani6r(^e. II mesurait ses phrases, n 'em- 
ploy ait que les termes les plus choisis. ... La charge, 
tres en honneur a Pimodan, etait d^daignde par lui 
comme artiste et grossiere; mais il ne s'interdisait 
pas le paradoxe et Toutrance. D'un air lr6s simple, 
tres naturel et parfaitement detach d . . , il avan<^ait 
quelque axiome satanique monstrueux. Ses gestes 
dtaient lents, rares et sobres, rapprochds du corps, car 
il avait en horreur la gesticulation mdridicjnalo. 11 
n'aimait pas non plus la volubilitd dc parole, et la 
froideur britannique lui semblait de bon gout. On 
peut dire le lui que c'dtait un dandy dgard dans la 
boh erne mais y gardant son rang et ses manieres et ce 
culte de soi-mdme qui caraetdrise rhomine imbu des 
principes de BrummelL’ What elaborate precautions 
against the possible laughter of humanity 1 Satan 
is a gentleman, and only on condition of remaining 
a gentleman can he be Satan. The moment he loses 
his Brammellesque dignity and becomes Auld Hornie 
or Auld Nick, he is just a poor devil, nothing more. 
If Baudelaire could sometimes have dropped his 
dandy's correctness, could sometimes have permitted 
himself to be called Clootie, he would have been 
certainly a happier and completer man and perhaps a 
better because a more comprehensive poet. 

But he preferred to cling to his satanic dignity; 



BAUDELAIRE 


143 

he buckled his laughter-proof armour yet more tightly 
about him. It was as a kind of Black Prince that he 
confronted the world — a dark figure, tragical and 
terrific, but at the same time ludicrous in being too 
imposing, insufficiently supple. 

‘ Sin/ says St. Paul, ' is not imputed when there is 
no law. . . . Moreover, the law entered, that the 
offence might abound.' Only a believer in absolute 
goodness can consciously pursue the absolute of evil ; 
you cannot be a Satanist without being at the same 
time, potentially or actually, a Godist. Baudelaire 
was a Christian inside out, the photographic image 111 
negative of a Father of the Church. His philosophy 
was orthodox — nay, more than orthodox, almost 
jansenistic. His views on original sin (in modern 
times the touchstone of orthodoxy) were entirely 
sound. They were much sounder, for example, than 
those of Jesus. Jesus could say, speaking of little 
children, that ‘ of such is the kingdom of heaven ' ; 
a sound Augustinian, Baudelaire called them ' des 
Satans en herbe.' He had the good Christian's con- 
tempt for the modern belief in progress. ' La croy- 
ance au progrds,' he said, ' est une doctrine de Beiges.' 
And when Baudelaire had said of a thing that it 
was Belgian he had called it the worst name in his 
vocabulary. 

To this Christian, who accepted the doctrine of the 
Fall with all its consequences, Humanitarianism was 
simply criminal nonsense. Man was by nature 
malignant and stupid. The * universal silliness of 
every class, individual, sex, and age ' filled him, as it 
filled Flaubert, with a chronic indignation. Those 
who, like the painter Wiertz (another Belgian !), 
believed in ' the immortal principles of ’89,' he re- 
garded almost as personal enemies. ' Le^ Christ des 
humanitaires/ he writes in his notes on Wiertz. 



144 


BAUDELAIRE 


' Peinture philosophique. Sottises analogues k celles 
de Victor Hugo k la fin des Contemplations. Abolition 
de la peine de mort, puissance infinie de Thomme 1 ' 
For the democrat's ingenuous faith in the power of 
education to make all men equally intelligent and 
virtuous he had nothing but contempt. One of his 
projects was to write an essay on the ' infamie de 
rimprimerie, grand obstacle au d6veloppemcnt du 
Beau.' Wholly Christian again was Baudelaire's 
attitude towards the question of individual responsi- 
bility. For the eighteenth-century humanitarians, 
who started from the axiom that man in a ' state of 
nature ' is virtuous and reasonable, there could not, 
logically, be such a thing as sin in the Christian, or 
crime in the legal, sense of the word ; the individual 
was not to blame for his bad actions. The entire 
responsibility rested with the Environment, with 
Society, with Bad Laws, Priestcraft, Superstition, and 
so forth. For Baudelaire only the individual counted. 
Those who do wrong must bear the whole responsibility 
for their wrongdoing. And what actions, according 
to Baudelaire, are wrong ? The answer is simple : 
they are the actions which the Church regards as sinful. 
St. Paul never hated the flesh and all its works more 
venomously than did Baudelaire; Prudent ius never 
wrote of love with a fiercer vehemence of disgust. 
For the poet, as for the Christian moralists, the worst, 
because the most attractive, the commonest, the 
apparently most harmless sins were those of a sexual 
nature. Avoid them, then I was the command of 
the moralists. But Baudelaire was a looking-glass 
Christian ; for him the categorical imperative was just 
the opposite of this. Indulgence is hateful to God; 
therefore (such is the logic of the satanists) indulge. 
' La voluptd unique et suprtoe de Tamour g!t dans 
la certitude de faire le mal. Et Thomme et la femme 



BAUDELAIRE 


145 


savent de naissance que dans le mal se trouve toute 
volupt^/ Baudelaire liked revolution for the same 
reason as he liked love. ' Moi, quand je consens a 
^tre r6publicain ' (he did a little desultory shooting 
from the barricades in 1848), ' je fais le mal, le sachant. 
. . . Je dis : Vive la Revolution ! comme je dirais : 
Vive la Destruction ! Vive la Mort I Nous avons 
tous Fesprit republicain dans les veines comme la 
verole dans les os. Nous sommes democratises et 
syphilises ! ' He hated and despised the revolution- 
aries who imagined that they were acting for the 
benefit of the human race. * Moi, je me fous du genre 
humain.' * A taste for vengeance and the natural 
pleasure of demolition ' were what drove him to the 
barricades. 

But politics and, in general, * action * (in the popular 
sense of the word) were distasteful to him. It was 
only theoretically that he ‘ understood a man's desert- 
ing one cause for the sake of knowing what it would 
feel like to serve another.' An invincible dislike of all 
causes but that of poetry prevented him from attempt- 
ing the experiment in practice. And in the same way, 
when he said that ' not only would he be happy to be 
the victim, but that he would not object to being the 
executioner — so as to feel the Revolution in both 
ways,' it was only a matter of words. His own active 
participation in the Revolution was too brief to permit 
of his being either victim or executioner. 

Much of Baudelaire's satanism even outside the 
sphere of politics was confined to words. Inevitably : 
for Baudelaire liked his freedom, and in a well-policed 
society the satanists who put their principles too 
freely into practice get tlurown into gaol. From 
Baudelaire’s conversation you would have imagined 
that he was a mixture of Gilles de Rais, Heliogabalus, 
and the Marquis de Sade. At any rate, that was what 



BAUDELAIRE 


146 

he wanted you to imagine. But reputations have a 
strange life of their own, over which their subject 
has little or no control, Baudelaire would have liked 
the world to regard him as the incarnation of all the 
gentlemanly wickednesses. Instead of which — but 
let me quote his own words : ' Un jour ime femme me 
dit : C’est singulier ; vous etes fort convenable ; je 
croyais que vous etiez toujours ivre et que vous 
sentiez mauvais.'' 

To have the reputation of being unpleasantly 
smelly — could anything have been more humiliating 
to the man who saw himself as the Chief of many 
throned powers ! Those who knew him personally 
made, of course, no such mistakes. Their friend was 
no vulgar Bohemian, but a Dandy ; if he was wicked, 
it was in the grand manner, like a gentleman, not an 
artist. But they also knew that a great deal of his 
aristocratic satanism was purely platonic and con- 
versational. Baudelaire was a practising satanist 
only in those circumstances in which active satanism 
is not interfered with by the police. All satanisms 
of violence and fraud were thus ruled out. He talked 
about treacheries and executions, but did not act 
them. The most interesting of the legally tolerated 
sins are those of the flesh. Baudelaire was therefore, 
above all, a satanist of love. But not in the manner of 
the ferocious Marquis, nor even of Don Juan. He did 
not victimize his partners; he victimized only him- 
self- His cruelties -were directed inwards. Harm- 
lessly, one is tempted to say ; the harmless cruelties 
of an academic satanist. And harmless, in one sense, 
they were. Baudelaire's path wasS not strewn %vith 
seduced young girls, adulterous wives, and flagellated 
actresses. Regrettably, perhaps. For this appar- 
ently harmless variety of satanism is in certain ways 
the most harmful of all. The flagellator and the 



BAUDELAIRE 


147 


seducer do a certain strictly limited amount of damage 
among their feminine acquaintances. The self- 
victimizing satanist is infinitely more destructive. 
For what are a few virginities and a few square inches 
of tanned cocotte-skin compared with the entire 
universe? The entire universe — nothing less. The 
satanist who is his own victim defaces and defiles for 
himself the entire universe. And when, like Baude- 
laire, he happens to be a great poet, he defaces and 
defiles it for his readers. Your Sades and Juans are 
never ruinous on this enormous scale. For they 
enjoy their satanisms — ^not very whole-heartedly, 
perhaps, and always crazily; but still enjoy. They 
go their way carolling with Pippa : ‘ Nick's in his 
Hades, all’s right with the world.' The self-victimizer 
has no enjoyments to rationalize into a jolly Brown- 
ingesque philosophy. The world is hateful to him; 
he himself has made it so. 

Baudelaire treated himself with a studied malign- 
ancy. He took pains to make the world as thoroughly 
disgusting for himself as he could. As an example of 
his Satanic technique, let me quote this fragment of 
autobiography from one of his sonnets : 

Une nuit que j'6tais pr6s d'une afireuse juive, 

Comme au long d*un cadavre un cadavre 6tendu, 

J c me pris <\ songer prds de ce corps vendu 
A la tnstc beaiit6 dont mon d6sir se prive. 

Appalling lines ! Reading them, one seems to sink 
through layer after darkening, thickening layer of 
slimy horror. A shuddering pity takes hold of one. 
And then amazement, amazement at the thought 
that this revolting torture was self-inflicted. 

Torture, torture — the word comes back to one 
hauntingly, again and again, as one reads the Fleurs du 
Mol, Baudelaire himself brooded over the notion. 



148 


BAUDELAIRE 


' Love is like a torture or a surgical operation. This 
idea can be developed in the bitterest way. Even 
when the two lovers are very much in love and full 
of reciprocal desires, one of the two will always be 
calmer or less possessed than the other. He, or she, 
is the operator, the executioner; the other is the 
patient, the victim." The tortures which Baude- 
laire inflicted on himself were not mere operations; 
they were more horrible than that. Between him 
and the * frightful Jewesses " there was not even the 
possibility of reciprocal desire — there was nothing but 
disgust. His tortures were mostly those of defile- 
ment. To be chained to a corpse, to be confined in 
the midst of rats and excrement — these were the 
punishments to which he satanically condemned him- 
self. And even his respites from the frightful Jewesses 
were only milder tortures. That ' sad beauty of 
whom his desire deprived itself " was a drunken 
negress, whose vulgarity shocked every fibre of his 
soul, whose stupidity amazed and appalled him, who 
drained him of his money and showed her gratitude 
by cuckolding him whenever she had an opportunity. 

Quand elle eut de mes os siac^ toute la moelle, 

Et pue languissamment je me tournai vers elle 
Pour lui rendre un baiser d'amour, je ne vis plus 
Qu'une outre aux fiancs gluants, toute pleine dc pus. 

In Spite of which, or because of which, Baudelaire 
remained indissolubly attached to his mulatto. 
After their most serious quarrel he lay in his bed for 
days, uncontrollably and incessantly weeping. In 
spite or because of the fact that she represented sex 
in its lowest form, he loved her. 

But frightful Jewesses and hardly less frightful 
negresses were not the only object of Baudelaire's 
love. For, 



BAUDELAIRE 


X49 


Quand chez le d6bauch6s Taube blanche et vermeille 
Entre en soci6t6 de Tld^al rongeur. 

Par Topdration d’un myst^re vengeur 
Dans la brute assoupie un ange se reveille. 

In other words, that morning-after sentiment, that 
omne-animal-triste feeling which, according to the 
Ancients, tinges with melancholy the loves of every 
creature but the mare and the woman, is easily and 
naturally rationalized in terms of Christian-Platonic 
idealism. The angel in Baudelaire was never fast 
asleep. For, as I have already pointed out, a man 
cannot be a Satanist who is not at the same time a 
Godist. Above the frightful Jewesses and negresses 
among whom Baudelaire had condemned himself to 
pass his life, hovered a white-winged, white-night- 
gowned ideal of feminine purity. The lineaments of 
this angelic child of fancy were by the poet occasionally 
superimposed on those of a real, fiesh'-and-blood 
woman, who thereupon ceased to be a woman and 
became, in the words used by Baudelaire himself 
when writing to one of his deified lady friends (an 
artist's model in this case), ' un objet de culte ' which 
it was * impossible de souiller.' Unhappily the * im- 
possibility of defilement ' was not so absolute as he 
could have wished. Idealization is a process which 
takes place only in the idealist's fancy : it has no 
perceptible effect upon the thing idealized. The 
' object of worship ' remains incurably what it was — 
in this case a woman. This regrettable fact was 
personally rediscovered by Baudelaire in the most 
ridiculously humiliating circumstances, Mme. Saba- 
tier was a merry young widow who gave literary 
and artistic dinner-parties. The Goncourts call her 
' une vivandidre de faunes ' ; and she herself, it would 
seem, was also a trifle faunesque in her tastes and 
habits. It was in this unlikely temple of plump 



BAUDELAIRE 


150 

luxuriant flesh and more than ordinarily warm blood 
that Baudelaire chose to lodge his divine ideal. The 
fauns' barmaid became for him an object of worship. 
For five years he adored, piously. Then, the publica- 
tion of the Fleurs du Mai 2x1^ the subsequent lawsuit 
having made him suddenly famous, Mme. Sabatier 
decided, without solicitation on his part, to yield. 
Invited to treat his deity as a human, even an all too 
human being, Baudelaire found himself incapable of 
rising to the occasion. The lady was offended — 
justifiably. She reproached him. Baudelaire re- 
turned her reproaches. ' II y a quelques jours,' he 
wrote, ' tu etais une divinity, ce qui est si commode, 
ce qui est si beau, ce qui est si inviolable. Te vclli 
femme maintenant.' It was unforgivable. ' J'ai 
horreur de la passion/ he went on to explain, * parce 
que je la connais avec toutes ses ignominies.' As a 
matter of fact, Baudelaire knew very little about 
passion. He knew the defiling torture of submitting 
to the embraces of frightful Jewesses; and, in the 
arms of his negress, he knew the madness, tlie fixed 
incurable monomania, of exclusive sensuality. At 
the other end of the scale he knew the worship of 
inviolable divinities — a worship, of which one of the 
conditions was precisely the joyless or frantic de- 
bauchery among the Jewesses and negresses. For 
'la femme dont on ne jouit point est cello qu'on 
aime, . . . Ce qui rend la maitresse plus chdre, e'est 
la debauche avec d'autres femmes. Ce qu'ellc perd 
en jouissances sensuelles elle gagne en adoration.' 
These strange perversities were what Baudelaire 
called passion. Of the more normal amorous rela- 
tionships he was wholly ignorant. We may doubt 
whether he ever embraced a woman he respected, or 
knew what it was to combine desire with esteem, and 
tenderness with passion. Indeed, he would have 



BAUDELAIRE 


151 

denied tbe very possibility ot such combinations. 
His theory of love was the theory of those extreme, 
almost Manichean Christians who condemned indis- 
criminately every form of physical passion, and 
regarded even marriage as a sin. Between mind and 
body, spirit and matter, he had fixed an impassable 
gulf. Body was wholly bad; therefore, according to 
the logic of satanism, it had to be indulged as much 
and above all as sordidly as possible. Spirit ,was 
wholly good ; therefore, when * dans la brute assohpie 
tin angc sc reveille,' there must be nothing in the 
nature of a (by definition) defiling physical contact. 

Where love was concerned, Baudelaire, in the 
phrase of Ivan Karamazov, * returned God his en- 
trance ticket.' He refused to accept love ; he wanted 
something better. With the result, of course, that 
he got something much worse and that love refused 
to accept him. The best is ever the enemy of the 
good, and nowhere more murderously the enemy than 
where love is concerned. Baudelaire’s idea of the 
best love was a purely mental relationship, a conscious 
interbccoming of two hitherto separate beings. 
Ordinary, unideal love was for him an * epouvantable 
jeu,' because at least ' one of the players must lose 
the government of himself.' Moreover, ‘ dans I’amoiir, 
comme dans presque toutes les affaires humaines, 
I'entente cordialc est le rcsultat d’un malentendu. 
Ce malentendu, e'est le plaisir. L'homnae crie : O 
mon ange 1 La femme roucoule : Maman ! Maman ! 
Et CCS deux imbeciles sont persuades qu'ils pensent 
de concert. Le gouffre infranchissable qui fait 
I'incommunicabilite reste infranchi.' But, after all, 
why shouldn’t it remain uncrossed ? And why 
shouldn't one sometimes lose the government of 
oneself? We may think ourselves happy that we 
do not possess a perfect and uninterrupted awareness 



152 


BAUDELAIRB 


of self and of others. How fatiguing existence would 
be if consciousness and will were never given a holiday, 
if there were no ' frightful games/ in the course of 
which one might occasionally lose one's head ! How 
fatiguing ! And also how trivial and petty 1 For, 
in love at any rate, a man loses his head for the sake 
of something bigger and more important than his 
own ego, of something not himself that makes for 
life. And then the horror of being wholly transparent 
to somebody else, wholly clear-sighted oneself ! 
Thanks, however, to the body, there can be no com- 
plete awareness, because there can be no mingling 
of substance, no interbecoming. The body guarantees 
our privacy, that inmost privacy, which we must 
not attempt to violate under pain of betraying our 
manhood. 


Aye free, aff han' your story tell. 

When a bosom cronie ; 

But still keep something to yourseF 
Ye scarcely tell to onie. 

To none, indeed — even in love. The realization of 
Baudelaire's ideal would be a psychological catastrophe. 
But being a sound, if satanic, Chiistian, with a 
prejudice in favour of mind and spirit, and a con- 
temptuous hatred of the body, Baudelaire could not 
understand this; on the contrary, he imagined that 
he was yearning for his own and humanity's highest 
good. When he saw that there was no prospect of 
his getting what he yearned for, he renounced love 
altogether in favour of self-tormenting debauchery 
on the one hand, and long-range adoration on the 
other. 

With that sovereign good sense which, in spite of 
the strangenesses and absurdities of their beliefs, 
generally distinguished the actions of the men of the 



BAUDELAIRE 


153 


Middle Ages, the great platonizing poets of the 
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries harmonized 
philosophy and the exigencies of daily living, the ideal 
and the real, in a manner incomparably more satis- 
factory. Thus, there was a Mrs. Dante as well as a 
Beatrice, there were no less than four little Dantes; 
Dante's friend and fellow-poet, Guido Cavalcanti, 
also had a wife and a family; and though Petrarch 
never married, two bastard children, borne by the 
same mother and at an interval of six years, testify 
to the fact that Laura's inordinately platonic friend 
was only prevented by the accident of his having 
taken orders from being as good and faithful a 
husband as he was, by all accounts, a tenderly 
solicitous father. Admirably inconsistent, these poets 
sang the praises of sacred love, while making the very 
best of the profane variety in the arms of an esteemed 
and affectionate spouse. Their platonic relationships 
existed on the margin of marriage or its equivalent, 
just as, in the larger world, the monasteries existed 
on the margin of secular life. Monk and platonic 
mistress testified to the existence of the spiritual 
ideal; those whose temperament impelled them to 
take extreme courses were at liberty to devote them- 
selves to the ideal either in the cloister or in the poet's 
study. Whatever happened, the ideal was not to be 
allowed to invade the sanctities of normal domestic 
life. This, as we realize when we read the Canterbury 
T ales and the Decameron, remained throughout the 
Middle Ages most wholesomely pagan, in spite of 
Christianity. The Reformation upset the mediaeval 
balance. Stupidly consistent, the Bible-reading 
Prote.stants abolished the monasteries and let loose 
the idealism, hitherto safely bottled up on the out- 
skirts of normal life, on the devoted heads of ordinary 
men and women. For the monk was substituted the 



BAUDELAIRE 


^^54 

puritan. It was a change deplorably for the worse. 
Confined to his private asylum on the margin of 
society, the monk had been harmless. The puritan 
was free to range the world, blighting and persecuting 
as he went, free to make life poisonous, not only for 
himself, but for all who came near him. The puritan 
was and is a social danger, a public and private 
nuisance of the most odious kind. Baudelaire was a 
puritan inside out. Instead of asceticism and re- 
spectability he practised debauchery. The means 
he used were the opposite of those employed by the 
puritans; but his motives and theirs, the ends that 
he and they achieved, were the same. He hated 
life as much as they did, and was as successful m 
destroying it. 

Incapable of understanding the inconsistencies 
even of the mediaeval Christians, Baudelaire was still 
less capable of understanding the much more radical 
inconsistencies of the pagan Greeks. For tlie Greeks, 
all the Gods (or in other words all the aspects of 
human nature) were equally divine. The art of life 
consisted, for them, in giving every God his due. 
These dues were various. Thus, Apollo's due was 
very different from the debt a man owed to Dionysus. 
Indeed, one due might be incompatible with another; 
but every one was owed and, in its proper time and 
season, must be acknowledged. No God must be 
cheated and none overpaid. Baudelaire was utterly 
un-Hellenic. Only once or twice in all his work does 
he touch a pagan theme, and then it is as a puritanical 
Jansenist, as an early Father of the Church, that he 
treats it. Read, for example, the poem called 
* Lesbos.' Here are a few characteristic extracts : 


Laisse du vieux Platon se froncer Fcei! anstdre; 
Tu tires ton pardon de Pexc^s des baisers . . . 



BAUDELAIRE 


155 


Tu tires ton pardon de I'^temel martyre 
Inflig6 sans relache aux coeurs ambitieux . . . 

Qui des Dienx osera, Lesbos, toe ton juge, 

Et condamner ton front pali dans les travaux, 

Si ses balances d'or n'ont pes6 le deluge, 

Des larmes qu'a la mer ont verse tes ruisseaux? 

Qui des Dieiix osera, Lesbos, ^tre ton juge ? 

To the contemporaries and the successors of Sappho 
these lines would have been absolutely incompre- 
hensible. All this talk about pardon and martyrdom, 
judgment and tears — the Greeks would have shaken 
their heads over it in utter bewilderment. For them, 
love-making was not something that required pardon- 
ing or judging. And what did it matter, after all, if 
i les Phyrnes I'une Tautre s*attirent * ? To the Greeks 
it was a matter of almost perfect indifference whether 
one made love with somebody of one’s own or some- 
body of the other sex. There is little in Plato's 
writing and still less in the reputation he enjoyed 
among his fellow-Grecks to make us suppose that he 
frowned very austerely on homosexual embraces. 
The Gods, if one can credit their official biographers, 
were as little likely to pass judgment on Lesbos as 
Plato. And if one of them had taken it into his head 
to do so, is it likely that he would have found many 
tears in the Lesbian streams? None certainly of 
remorse or conscious guilt. The only tears which 
Hellenic lovers ever seem to have dropped were those, 
in youth, of unsatisfied desire and those, when age 
had made them feeble and ugly, of regret for pleasures 
irrevocably past. Occasionally, too, they may have 
wept the lacrimae rerum. For, like all realists, the 
Greeks were, at bottom, profoundly pessimistic. In 
spite of its beauty, its inexhaustible strangeness and 
rich diversity, the world, they perceived, is finally 
deplorable. Fate has no pity; old age and death lie 



BAUDELAIRE 


156 

in wait at the end of every vista. It is therefore our 
duty to make the best of the world and its loveliness 
while we can — at any rate during the years of youth 
and strength. Hedonism is the natural companion 
of pessimism. Where there is laughter, there also 
you may expect to find the ' teax's of things.' But as 
for tears of repentance and remorse — who but a fool 
would want to make the world more deplorable than 
it already is? who but a life-hating criminal would 
want to increase the sum of misery at the expense of 
man's small portion of precarious joy ? 

i(s « 

The earth is rich in silicon ; but our bodies contain 
hardly a trace of it. It is poor in phosphorus; yet 
in phosphorus we are rich. Sea water contains little 
lime and almost infinitely little copper ; nevertheless, 
there is copper in the blood of certain crustaceans and 
in the shell of every moUasc abundance of lime. It 
is much the same in the psychological as in the physical 
world. We live in a spiritual environment in which, 
at any given moment, certain ideas and sentiments 
abound, certain others are rare. But in any individual 
mind the proportions may be reversed. For the 
environment does not flow into us mechanically; 
the living mind takes up from it only what suits it, 
or what it is capable of taking. What suits the 
majority of minds (which are but weak, under- 
organized beings) is of course the environment. But 
strong, original minds may and often do dislike their 
surroundings. What suits them may exist in only 
the smallest quantities in the spiritud medium they 
inhabit. But like the copper-blooded crustaceans, 
Hke the lime-shelled molluscs, they have a wonderful 
art to find and take up what they need. Baudelaire 
exemplifies this type. In the age of Buckle and 



BAUDELAIRE 


157 


Podsnap, of optimism and respectability, be was 
the most savage and gloomy of Augastinian Christians, 
the most conscientious of debauchees. Why? His 
private history provides the explanation. The key 
facts are these : he had a childish passion for his 
mother, and his mother, while he was still a boy, 
married a second husband. This marriage was a 
shock from which he never recovered. Whole tracts 
of his consciousness were suddenly ravaged by it. 
He had adox*ed and idealized — the more extravagantly 
for the fact that his adoration and idealization had 
been mingled with a precocious and slightly perverse 
sensuality. The divinity was suddenly thrown down 
and violated. He hated the violator and everything 
that could remind him of the act of violation; he 
adored the memory of the yet inviolate divinity. 
The cynicism and perversity of adolescence got mixed 
in his hatred and made him take an agonizing and 
degrading pleasure in rehearsing in thought and, 
later, in act the scenes of violation. In the intervals, 
when he was exhausted, he worshipped a disembodied 
goddess. And this was what he went on doing ail 
his life. Needing, like all men, a philosophical 
explanation for his actions, he found it in the semi- 
Manichean Christianity of the early monks and the 
Jansenists. A very slight twist was enough to turn 
the creed and ethics of Pascal into a self-torturing, 
world-destroying satanism. On the other face of the 
Satanic medal were those tendencies towards ' spirit- 
ual ' love, so grotesquely exemplified in the case of 
Mme. Sabatier. 

Baudelaire was not merely a satanist; he was a 
bored satanist. He was the poet of ennui, of that 
appalling boredom which can assume ' les proportions 
de rimmortalit6/ The personal causes of this bore- 
dom are easily traceable. From quite early youth 



158 


BAUDELAIRE 


Baudelaire never enjoyed good health. Syphilis was 
in his blood : he drank too much ; he took, in one form 
or another, large quantities of opium; he was an 
experimenter with haschisch ; he was chronically 
exhausted by a joyless and at last utterly pleasure- 
less debauchery. In the physical circumstances it 
was difficult for a man to feel very gay and buoyant. 
His purse w^as as sick as his body. He was never 
out of debt ; his creditors unceasingly harassed him ; 
he lived in a perpetual state of anxiety. A neurosis 
of which one of the symptoms was a terrible depression 
was the result. This depression, he records, became 
almost unbearable during the autumn months — those 
terrible, dreary months — 

Quand le del has et lourd pdse comme un couvcrcle 
Sur Tesprit g^missant en proie &ux longs ennuis, 

Et que de Thonzon embrassant tout le cercle 

II nous verse un jour noir plus triste que les nuits. 

These are, I know, but summary and superficial 
generalizations; and though it would be easy, with 
the aid of the biographical documents which the 
labours of the Cr^pets, father and son, have placed 
at our disposal, to explain, in detail and plausibly 
enough, all the characteristic features of Baudelaire's 
poetry in terms of his personal history, I shall not 
attempt the task. For what above all interests me 
here is not Baudelaire as a man, but Baudelaire as an 
influence, a persisting force. For a force he is. 

* Avec Baudelaire,' writes M. Paul VaMry, * la 
po^sie fran^aise sort enfin des fronti^res de la nation. 
Elle se fait lire dans le monde; elle s'impose comme 
la po^sie mdme de la modernitd ; elle engendre 
rimitation, elle f6conde de nombreux esprits. . . . Je 
puis done dire que, s'il est parmi nos podtes, des 



BAUDELAIRE 


159 


podtes plus grands et plus puissamment dou6s que 
Baudelaire, il n'en est de plus important,' 

Baudelaire is now the most important of French, 
and indeed of European, poets. His poetry, which is 
the poetry of self-stultifying, world-destroying satan- 
ism and unutterable ennui, has come to be regarded 
‘ comme la po6sie meme de la modernit6.' The fact 
is, surely, odd. Let us try to understand its 
significance. 

The most important of modern poets was a satanist. 
Does this mean that his contemporary admirers are, 
like him, despairing absolute-hunters with a 

gout de Vinj&ni 

Qui partout dans le mal lui-meme se proclame ? 

No. For to be a satanist, as I have said before, one 
must also be a Godist ; and the present age is singu- 
larly Godless. Debauchery was a tragical affair in 
Baudelaire's day; it is now a merely medical one. 
We feel scientihcaliy about our sins, not satanically. 
Why, then, do we admire this topsy-turvy Jansenist, 
for whom the only pleasure in love was the conscious- 
ness of doing wrong? We ought to despise him for 
being so hopelessly old-fashioned. And hopelessly 
old-fashioned we do find him ; but only in the Christian 
and tragical interpretation of his actions. The 
actions themselves are perfectly up-to-date. ' Tes 
ddbauches sans soif et tes amours sans ame ' are 
indistinguishable from the extreme forms of the 
modern " Good Time.' The joylessncss of modern 
pleasures and modern love (which are, of course, the 
image of the * modern ' pleasures and loves of imperial 
Rome as it approached its catastrophe) is even com- 
pleter than the joylessness of Baudelaire's debauchery. 
For Baudelaire, the Christian satanist, had at least 
the stimulating consciousness that, in malignantly 



i6o 


BAUDELAIRE 


ruining the universe for himself, he was doing evil. 
The moderns fail to get even this ‘ kick out of their 
self- and world-destroying entertainments. They 
perversely do what they don't want to do, what fails 
to amuse them, and do not even have the pleasure of 
imagining that they are thereby committing a sin. 

The flesh is diabolic, the spirit divine. Therefore, 
commands the satanist, indulge the flesh to satiety 
and beyond. The modernist philosophy and the 
modernist ethic are different. Neither the spirit nor 
the flesh, nor for that matter anything at all, is divine. 
The only important thing is that a man should be 
socially efficient. Passion is the enemy of efficiency. 
So don't let your instincts run away with you ; on the 
other hand, don't repress them too much. Repression 
interferes with efficiency. Efficiency demands that 
you should neither give yourself completely away nor 
keep yourself completely back. Those who live by 
this godless philosophy and obey these purely medical 
commandments soon reduce their own lives and, 
consequently, the entire universe to a grey nothing- 
ness. In order not to be too unbearably conscious 
of this fact they surround themselves with an ever- 
increasing number of substitutes for genuine feeling. 
To create in themselves the illusion of being alive, 
they make a noise, they rush about, they hasten from 
distraction to distraction. Much to the profit of 
the shareholders in the great amusement industries. 
In a word, they have a Good Time. 

Now, the better the time (in the modern sense of 
the term), the greater the boredom. Rivers found 
that the unhappy Melanesians literally and physically 
died of ennui when they were brought too suddenly 
in contact with modem amusements. We have 
grown gradually accustomed to the disease, and we 
therefore find it less lethal than do the South Sea 



BAUDELAIRE 


i6i 

islanders. We do not die outright of it ; it is only 
gradually that we approach the fatal conclusion of 
the malady. It will come, that fatal conclusion, 
when men have entirely lost the art of amusing them- 
selves ; they will then simply perish of ennui. Modern 
creation-saving machinery has already begun to 
deprive them of this art. The progress of invention 
may confidently be expected to quicken the process. 
A few more triumphs in the style of the radio and the 
talkies, and the boredom which is now a mere dis- 
comfort will become an intolerable agony. 

We turn t o poetry for the perfect expression of our 
own feelings. In the Fleurs du Mai the modern finds 
all his own sufferings described — ^with what incom- 
parable energy, in forms how memorably beautiful I 

Je suis comme le roi d*un pays pluvieux, 

Riche mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant tr^s vieux 1 

It is ' la po6sie m^me de la modernity.' 



HOLY FACE 


Good Times are chronic nowadays. There is dancing 
every afternoon, a continuous performance at all the 
picture-palaces, a radio concert on tap, like gas or 
water, at any hour of the day or night. The fine 
point of seldom pleasure is duly blunted. Feasts 
must be solemn and rare, or else they cease to be 
feasts. * Like stones of worth they thinly placed 
are * (or, at any rate, they were in Shakespeare’s day, 
which was the day of Merry England), * or captain 
jewels in the carconet.’ The ghosts of these grand 
occasional jollifications still haunt our modern year. 
But the stones of worth are indistinguishable from 
the loud imitation jewellery which now adorns the 
entire circlet of days. Gems, when they are too 
large and too numerous, lose all their precious signi- 
ficance ; the treasure of an Indian prince is as 
unimpressive as Aladdin's cave at the pantomime. 
Set in the midst of the stage diamonds and rubies 
of modern pleasure, the old feasts are hardly visible. 
It is only among more or less completely rustic 
populations, lacking the means and the opportunity 
to indulge in the modem chronic Good Time, that the 
surviving feasts preserve something of their ancient 
glory. Me personally the unflagging pleasures of 
contemporary cities leave most lugubriously un- 
amused. The prevailing boredom — for oh, how 
desperately bored, in spite of their grim determination 
to have a Good Time, the majority of pleasure- 
seekers really are ! — the hopeless weariness, infect 
me. Among the lights, the alcohol, the hideous jazz 
162 



HOLY FACE 


1G3 

noises, and the incessant movement I feel myself 
sinking into deeper and ever deeper despondency. 
By comparison with a night-club, churches are posi- 
tively gay. If ever I want to make merry in public, 
I go where merry-making is occasional and the merri- 
ment, therefore, of genuine quality; I go where 
feasts come rarely. 

For one who would frequent only the occasional 
festivities, the great difficulty is to be in the right 
place at the right time. I have travelled through 
Belgium and found, in little market towns, kermesses 
that were orgiastic like the merry-making in a Breu- 
ghel picture. But how to remember the date ? And 
how, remembering it, to be in Flanders again at the 
appointed time? The problem is almost insoluble. 
And then there is Frogmore. The nineteenth- 
century sculpture in the royal mausoleum is reputed 
to be the most amazing of its amazing kind. I 
should like to see Frogmore. But the anniversary 
of Queen Victoria's death is the only day in the 
year when the temple is open to the public. The 
old queen died, I believe, in January. But what 
was the precise date? And, if one enjoys the blessed 
liberty to be elsewhere, how shall one reconcile oneself 
to being in England at such a season? Frogmore, 
it seems, will have to remain un visited. And there 
are many other places, many other dates and days, 
which, alas, I shall always miss. I must even be 
resignedly content with the few festivities whose 
times I can remember and whose scene coincides, 
more or less, with that of my existence in each par- 
ticular portion of the year. 

One of these rare and solemn dates which I happen 
never to forget is September the thirteenth. It is the 
feast of the Holy Face of Lucca. And since Lucca is 
within thirty miles of the seaside place where I spend 



164 


HOLY FACE 


the summer, and since the middle of September is still 
serenely and transparently summer by the shores 
of the Mediterranean, the feast of the Holy Face is 
counted among the captain jewels of my year. At the 
religious function and the ensuing fair I am, each 
September, a regular attendant. 

' By the Holy Face of Lucca ! ' It was William 
the Conqueror's favourite oath. And if I were in the 
habit of cursing and swearing, I think it would also 
be mine. For it is a fine oath, admirable both in form 
and substance. ' By the Holy Face of Lucca ! ' In 
whatever language you pronounce them, the words 
reverberate, they rumble with the rumbling of 
genuine poetry. And for any one who has ever seen 
the Holy Face, how pregnant they are with power 
and magical compulsion 1 For the Face, the Holy 
Face of Lucca, is certainly the strangest, the most 
impressive thing of its kind I have ever seen. 

Imagine a huge wooden Christ, larger than life, 
not naked, as in later representations of the Crucifixion, 
but dressed in a long tunic, formally fluted with stiff 
Byzantine folds. The face is not the face of a dead, 
or dying, or even suffering man. It is the face of a 
man still violently alive, and the expression of its 
strong features is stem, is fierce, is even rather sinister. 
From the dark sockets of polished cedar wood two 
yellowish tawny eyes, made, apparently, of some 
precious stone, or perhaps of glass, stare out, slightly 
squinting, with an unsleeping balefulness. Such is 
the Holy Face. Tradition affirms it to be a true, 
contemporary portrait. History establishes the fact 
that it has been in Lucca for the best part of twelve 
hundred years. It is said that a rudderless and 
crewless ship miraculously brought it from Palestine 
to the beaches of Luni. The inhabitants of Sarzana 
claimed the sacred flotsam; but the Holy Face did 



HOLY FACE 


165 

not wish to go to Sarzana. The oxen harnessed to 
the wagon in which it had been placed were divinely 
inspired to take the road to Lucca. And at Lucca 
the Face has remained ever since, working miracles, 
drawing crowds of pilgrims, protecting and at in- 
tervals failing to protect the city of its adoption from 
harm. Twice a year, at Easter time and on the thir- 
teenth of September, the doors of its little domed 
tabernacle in the cathedral are thrown open, the 
candles are lighted, and the dark and formidable 
image, dressed up for the occasion in a jewelled overall 
and with a glittering crown on its head, stares 
down — ^with who knows what mysterious menace 
in its bright squinting eyes? — on the throng of its 
worshippers. 

The official act of worship is a most handsome 
function. A little after sunset a procession of clergy 
forms up in the church of San Frediano. In the 
ancient darkness of the basilica a few candles light up 
the liturgical ballet. The stiff embroidered vestments, 
worn by generations of priests and from which the 
heads and hands of the present occupants emei'ge 
with an air of almost total irrelevance (for it is the 
sacramental carapace that matters; the little man 
who momentarily fills it is without significance), 
move hieratically hither and thither through the 
rich light and the velvet shadows. Under his balda- 
quin the jewelled old archbishop is a museum speci- 
men. There is a forest of silvery mitres, spear- 
shaped against the darkness (bishops seem to be 
plentiful in Lucca). The choir boys wear lace and 
scarlet. There is a guard of halberdiers in a gaudily- 
pied mediaeval uniform. The ritual charade is solemnly 
danced through. The procession emerges from the 
dark church into the twilight of the streets. The 
municipal band strikes up loud inappropriate music. 



HOLY FACE 


1 66 

We hurry off to the cathedral by a short cut to take 
our places for the function. 

The Holy Face has always had a partiality for 
music. Yearly, through all these hundreds of years, 
it has been sung to and played at, it has been treated 
to symphonies, cantatas, solos on every instrument. 
During the eighteenth century the most celebrated 
castrati came from the ends of Italy to warble to it ; 
the most eminent professors of the violin, the flute, 
the oboe, the trombone scraped and blew before its 
shrine. Paganini himself, when he was living in 
Lucca in the court of Elisa Bonaparte, performed at 
the annual concerts in honour of the Face. Times 
have changed, and the image must now be content 
with local talent and a lower standard of musical 
excellence. True, the good will is always there; 
the Lucchesi continue to do their musical best ; 
but their best is generally no more nor less than 
just dully creditable. Not always, however. I 
shall never forget what happened during my first 
visit to the Face. The musical programme that 
year was ambitious. There was to be a rendering, 
by choir and orchestra, of one of those vast oratorios 
which the clerical musician, Dom Perosi, composes 
in a strange and rather frightful mixture of the 
musical idioms of Palestrina, Wagner, and Verdi. 
The orchestra was enormous ; the choir was numbered 
by the hundred; we waited in pleased anticipation 
for the music to begin. But when it did begin, 
what an astounding pandemonium ! Everybody 
played and sang like mad, but without apparently 
any reference to the playing and singing of anybody 
else. Of all the musical performances I have ever 
listened to it was the most Manchester-Liberal, the 
most Victorian-democratic, The conductor stood 
in the midst of them waving his arms ; but he was only 



a constitutional monarch — for show, not use. The 
performers had revolted against his despotism. Nor 
had they permitted themselves to be regimented into 
Prussian uniformity by any soul-destroying excess of 
rehearsal. Godwin*s prophetic vision of a perfectly 
individualistic concert was here actually realized. 
The noise was hair-raising. But the performers were 
making it with so much gusto that, in the end, 1 was 
infected by their high spirits and enjoyed the hulla- 
baloo almost as much as they did. That concert 
was symptomatic of the general anarchy of post-war 
Italy. Those times are now past. The Fascists 
have come, bringing order and discipline — even to the 
arts. When the Lucchesi play and sing to their Holy 
Face, they do it now with decorum, in a thoroughly 
professional and well-drilled manner. It is admirable, 
but dull. There are times, I must confess, when I 
regret the loud delirious blaring and bawling of the 
days of anarchy. 

Almost more interesting than the official acts of 
worship arc the unofhcial, the private and individual 
acts. I have spent hours in the cathedral watching 
the crowd before the shrine. The great church is 
full from moi’ning till night. Men and women, 
young and old, they come in their thousands, from 
the town, from all the country round, to gaze on the 
authentic image of God. And the image is dark, 
threatening, and sinister. In the eyes of the wor- 
shippers I often detected a certain meditative disquiet. 
Not unnaturally. For if the face of Providence 
should really and in truth be like the Holy Face, 
why, then — then life is certainly no joke. Anxious 
to propitiate this rather appalling image of Destiny, 
the worshippers come pressing up to the shrine to 
deposit a little offering of silver or nickel and kiss 
the reliquary proffered to every almsgiver by the 



i68 


HOLY FACE 


attendant priest. For two francs fifty perhaps Fate 
will be kind- But the Holy Face continues, unmoved, 
to squint inscrutable menace. Fixed by that sinister 
regard, and with the smell of incense in his nostrils, the 
darkness of the church around and above him, the 
most ordinary man begins to feel himself obscurely a 
Pascal. Metaphysical gulfs open before him. The 
mysteries of human destiny, of the future, of the 
purpose of life oppress and terrify his soul. The 
church is dark ; but in the midst of the darkness is a 
little island of candle-light. Oh, comfort 1 But from 
the heart of the comforting light, incongruously 
jewelled, the dark face stares with squinting eyes, 
appalling, balefully mysterious. 

But luckily, for those of us who are not Pascal, 
there is always a remedy. We can always turn our 
back on the Face, we can always leave the hollow 
darkness of the church. Outside, the sun-light pours 
down out of a flawless sky. The streets are full of 
people in their holiday best. At one of the gates 
of the city, in an open space beyond the walls, the 
merry-go-rounds are turning, the steam organs are 
playing the tunes that were popular four years ago 
on the other side of the Atlantic, the fat woman's 
drawers hang unmoving, like a huge forked pennon, 
in the windless air outside her booth. There is a 
crowd, a smell, an unceasing noise — music and shout- 
ing, roaring of circus lions, giggling of tickled girls, 
squealing from the switchback of deliciously frightened 
girls, laughing and whistling, tooting of cardboard 
trumpets, cracking of guns in the rifle-range, breaking 
of crockery, howling of babies, all blended together 
to form the huge and formless sound of human happi- 
ness. Pascal was wise, but wise too consciously, 
with too consistent a spirituality. For him the 
Holy Face was always present, haunting him with its 



HOLY FACE 


169 


dai‘k menace, with the mystery of its baleful eyes. 
And if ever, in a moment of distraction, he forgot the 
metaphysical horror of the world and those abysses 
at his feet, it was with a pang of remorse that he came 
again to himself, to the self of spiritual consciousness. 
He thought it right to be haunted, he refused to enjoy 
the pleasures of the created world, he liked walking 
among the gulfs. In his excess of conscious wisdom 
he was mad; for he sacrificed life to principles, to 
metaphysical abstractions, to the overmuch spirituality 
which is the negation of existence. He preferred 
death to life. Incomparably grosser and stupider 
than Pascal, almost immeasurably his inferiors, the 
men and women who move with shouting and laughter 
through the dusty heat of the fair are yet more wise 
than the philosopher. They are wise with the un- 
conscious wisdom of the species, with the dumb, 
instinctive, physical wisdom of life itself. For it 
is life itself that, in the interests of living, commands 
them to be inconsistent. It is life itself that, having 
made them obscurely aware of Pascal's gulfs and 
horrors, bids them turn away from the baleful eyes 
of the Holy Face, bids them walk out of the dark, 
hushed, incense-smelling church into the sunlight, 
into the dust and whirling motion, the sweaty smell 
and the vast chaotic noise of the fair. It is life itself ; 
and I, for once, have more confidence in the rightness 
of life than in that of any individual man, even if the 
man be Pascal. 



REVOLUTIONS 


The Proletariat/ It was Karl Marx who enriched 
the dead and ugly gibbering of politicians and jour- 
nalists and Thoughtful People (the gibbering which 
in certain circles is beautifully called * the language 
of modern ideology ’) with the word. ' The Prole- 
tariat/ For Marx those five syllables connoted some- 
thing extremely unpleasant, something very discredit- 
able to humanity at large and the bourgeoisie in 
particular. Pronouncing them, he thought of life 
in the English manufacturing towns in the first half 
of the nineteenth century. He thought of children 
working a two-hundred-and-sixteen-hour week for a 
shilling. Of women being used, instead of the more 
costly horse, in pulling trucks of coal along the galleries 
of mines. Of men performing endless tasks in filthy, 
degrading, and unwholesome surroundings in order 
to earn enough for themselves and their families just 
not to starve on. He thought of all the iniquitous 
things that had been done in the name of Progress 
and National Prosperity. Of all the atrocious wicked- 
ness which piously Christian ladies and gentlemen 
complacently accepted and even personally par- 
ticipated in, because they were supposed to be 
inevitable, like sunrise and sunset, because they were 
supposed to happen in accordance with the change- 
less, the positively divine, laws of Political Economy. 

The wage-slaves of the early and middle nine- 
teenth century were treated a good deal worse than 
most of the chattel slaves of antiquity and modern 
times. Naturally , for a chattel slave was a valuable 
170 



REVOLUTIONS 


171 

possession, and nobody wantonly destroys valuable 
possessions. It was only when conquest had made 
slaves enormously plentiful and cheap that the owner 
class permitted itself to be extravagant with its labour 
resources. Thus, the Spaniards wiped out the whole 
of the aboriginal population of the West Indies in a 
few generations. The average life of an Indian slave 
in a mine was about a year. When he had been 
worked to death, the mine-owner bought another 
slave, for practically nothing. Slaves were a natural 
product of the soil, which the Spaniards felt themselves 
at liberty to waste, as the Americans now feel them- 
selves at liberty to waste petroleum. But in normal 
times, when the supply of slaves was limited, owners 
were more careful of their possessions. The slave 
was then treated with at least as much consideration 
as a mule or a donkey. Nineteenth-century in- 
dustrialists were in the position of conquerors having 
a suddenly dilated supply of slave labour on which to 
draw. Machinery had increased production, hitherto 
empty lands were supplying cheap food, while im- 
ported nitrates were increasing the home supply. 
It was therefore possible for the population to in- 
crease, and, when it is possible for the population to 
increase, it generally does increase, rapidly at first, 
and then, as a certain density is approached, with 
diminishing acceleration. The industrials of last 
century were living at the time of the population's 
most rapid increase. There was an endless supply 
of slaves. They could afford to be extravagant; 
and, anaesthetizing their consciences with the con- 
soling thought that it was all in accordance with 
those Iron Laws that were so popular in scientific 
circles at the period, and trusting with truly Christian 
faith that the wage-slaves would get their compensa- 
tion in a Better World, they w&re> extravagant-— with 



172 


REVOLUTIONS 


a vengeance ! Wage-slaves were worked to death 
at high speed; but there were always new ones 
coming in to take their places, fairly begging the 
capitalists to work them to death too. The efficiency 
of these slaves while being worked to death on starva- 
tion wages was, of course, very low; but there were 
so many of them, and they cost so little, that the 
owners could rely on quantity to make up for any 
defect in quality. 

Such was the position in the industrial world 
when Marx wrote his celebrated and almost universally 
unread work. Tlie Proletariat, as he knew it, was 
exploited and victimized as only, in the slave-holding 
past, the conquered had been exploited and victimized. 
Marx's whole theory of contemporary Instory and 
future industrial development depended on the 
continual existence of precisely that particular Prole- 
tariat with which he was familiar. He did not fore- 
see the possibility of that Proletariat ceasing to exist. 
For him it was to be for ever and inevitably victimized 
and exploited — that is, until revolution had founded 
the communist State. 

The facts have proved him wrong. The Proletariat 
he knew it has ceased — or, if that is too sweeping 
a'Statement, is ceasing — to exist in America and, to a 
less extent, industrialized Europe. The higher the 
degree of industrial development and material civi- 
lization (which is not at all the same thing, incidentally, 
as civilization tout court), the more complete has been 
tjie transformation of the Proletariat. In the most 
fully industrialized countries the Proletariat is no 
longe# abject ; it is prosperous, its way of life approxi- 
mates to that of the bourgeoisie. No longer the 
victim, it is actually, in some places, coming to be the 
victimizer. 

The causes of this change are many and diverse* 



REVOLUTIONS 


173 


In the depths of the human soul lies something which 
we rationalize as a demand for justice. It is an 
obscure perception of the necessity for balance in the 
affairs of life ; we are conscious of it as a passion for 
equity, a hungering after righteousness. An obvious 
lack of balance in the outside world outrages this 
feeling for equity within us, gradually and cumu- 
latively outrages it, until we are driven to react, 
often extravagantly, against the forces of disequili- 
brium. Just as the aristocratic power-holders of 
eighteenth-century France were driven, by their 
outraged sentiment of equity, to preach humani- 
tarianism and equality, to give away their hereditary 
privileges and yield without a struggle to the demands 
of the revolutionaries, so the industrial-bourgeois 
power-holders of the nineteenth century passed laws 
to restrain their own cupidity, handed over more 
and more of their power to the Proletariat they had 
so outrageously oppressed, and even, in individual 
cases, took a strange masochistic pleasure in sacrificing 
themselves to the victims, serving the servants and 
being humiliated by the oppressed. If they had 
cho.sen to use their power ruthlessly, they could have 
gone on exploiting the wage-slaves as they exploited 
them in the earlier part of the century. But they 
simply could not make such a choice; for the un- 
balanced world of the early industrial epoch was felt 
by the deepest self as an outrage. Hence, in the la.tei’ 
nineteenth century, that ' craven fear of being £rrea± 
which afflicted and still afflicts the class of mast®:s. 
Here then is one cause of the change. It is a cause 
which historical materialists, who deal not with real 
human beings but with abstract ' Economic Men,' do 
not consider. It is none the less potent. In the world 
where historical materialists are at home, there were 
also good store of causes. Organization of the Prole- 



174 


REVOLUTIONS 


tariat. Revolutionary propaganda culminating in 
more or less revolutionary violence. And, above all, 
the momentous discovery that it pays the capitalist 
to have a prosperous Proletariat about him. It 
pays him to pay well, because those who are paid well 
buy well, particularly when hypnotized by the 
incessant suggestions of modern advertising. The 
policy of modern capitalism is to teach the Proletariat 
to be wasteful, to organize and facilitate its extrava- 
gance, and at the same time to make that extrava- 
gance possible by paying high wages in return for high 
production. The newly enriched Proletariat is sug- 
gested into spending what it earns, and even into 
mortgaging its future earnings in the purchase of 
objects which the advertisers persuasively affirm to be 
necessaries or at least indispensable luxuries. The 
money circulates and the prosperity of the modern 
industrial state is assured — ^until such time, at any 
rate, as the now extravagantly squandered resources 
of the planet begin to run low. But this eventuality 
is still, by the standards of an individual life, though 
not by those of history and infinitely less by those of 
geology, remote. 

Meanwhile, what is happening, what is likely 
to happen in the future, to Karl Marx’s Proletariat ? 
Briefly, this is happening. It is becoming a branch 
of the bourgeoisie — a bourgeoisie that happens to 
work in factories and not in offlees ; a bourgeoisie with 
oily instead of inky fingers. Out of working hours 
the way of life of these two branches of the modern 
bourgeoisie is the same. Inevitably, since they earn 
the same wages. In highly industrialized states, like 
America, there is a tendency towards equalization 
of income. There is a tendency for the unskilled 
workman to be paid as much as the skilled — or rather, 
since the machine tool is abolishing the difference 



REVOLUTIONS 


175 


between them, for skilled and unskilled to fuse into 
a single semi-skilled type with a given standard of 
wages — and for the manual worker to be paid as 
much as the professional man. (As things stand, he 
is often paid more than the professional. A con- 
structional engineer overseeing the building of an 
American skyscraper may actually be paid less than 
a plasterer at work on the interior walls of the building. 
Bricklayers earn more than many doctors, draughts- 
men, analytical chemists, teachers, and the like. This 
is partly due to the fact that the manual workers are 
more numerous and better organized than the brain 
workers and are in a better position to bargain with 
the capitalists; partly to the overcrowding of the 
professions with the finished products of an educa- 
tional system that turns out more would-be brain 
workers than there are places to fill — or for that 
matter than there are brains to work !) But to 
return to our transmogrified Proletariat. The equal- 
ization of income — ^that happy consummation from 
which Mr. Bernard Shaw expects all blessings auto- 
matically to flow — is in process of being realized 
under the capitalist system in America. What the 
immediate future promises is a vast plateau of 
standardized income — ^the plateau being composed 
of manual labourers and the bulk of the class of clerks 
and small professional men — ^with a relatively small 
number of peaks rising from it to more or less giddy 
heights of opulence. On these peaks will be perched 
the hereditary owners of property, the directors of 
industry and finance, and the exceptionally able and 
successful professional men. Given this transforma- 
tion of the Proletariat into a branch of the bourgeoisie, 
given this equalization — at an unprecedentedly high 
level, and over an area unprecedentedly wide — of 
standard income, the doctrines of socialism lose most 



176 


REVOLUTIONS 


of their charm, and the communist revolution be- 
comes rather pointless. Those who inhabit paradise 
do not dream of yet remoter heavens (though it 
seems to me more than likely that they yearn rather 
wistfully sometimes for hell). The socialist paradise 
is a world where all share equally, and the fulness of 
every man's belly is guaranteed by the State. For the 
ordinary man the important items of this programme 
will be the equality of sharing and the fulness of the 
belly; he will not care who guarantees him these 
blessings, so long as guaranteed they are. If capital- 
ism guarantees them, he will not dream of violently 
overthrowing capitalism for the sake of receiving 
precisely the same advantages from the socialist State. 
So that, if the present tendency continues, it would 
seem that the danger of a strictly communistic re- 
volution in the highly developed industrial countries, 
like America, will disappear. What may happen, 
however, is a more gradual change in the present 
organization of capitalist society. A change for 
which capitalism itself will have been largely respon- 
sible. For by levelling up incomes at present low, 
in order that all may buy its productions, American 
capitalism is doing more for the democratization of 
society than any number of idealistic preachers of the 
Rights of Man. Indeed, it has transformed these 
famous rights and the claim that all men are equal 
from a polite fiction into the beginnings of a fact. 
In so doing, it seems to me, capitalism is preparing 
its own downfall — or rather the downfall of the 
extremely rich people who are now at the head of 
capitalist enterprise. For it is obvious that you 
cannot preach democracy, and not merely preach it, 
but actually give it practical realization throughout 
large tracts of society in terms of hard cash, without 
arousing in men the desire to be consistent and 



REVOLUTIONS 


T77 


carry through the partial democratization of society 
to the end. We shall see, I believe, the realization 
of what seems at first sight a paradox — the imposition 
of complete democratic equality as the result, not of 
monstrous injustice, poverty, discontent, and con- 
sequent bloody revolution, but of partial equalization 
and universal prosperity. Past revolutions failed to 
produce the perfect democracy in whose name they 
were always made, because the great masses of the 
downtrodden were too abjectly poor to be able really 
to imagine the possibility of being the equals of their 
oppressors. Only those who were already well on 
the road towards economic equality with their masters 
ever profited by these revolutions. Revolutions 
always benefited the already prosperous and well 
organized. In America, under modern capitalism, 
the whole Proletariat is prosperous and well organized ; 
it is therefore in a position to feel its essential equality 
with its masters. It stands in the same relation 
with regard to the rich industrial overlords as did the 
English industrial and professional bourgeoisie with 
regard to the territorial magnates in 1832, or the 
lawyers, the merchants, the financiers, with regard 
to the French crown and its nobles in 1789. Incomes 
have been levelled up ; automatically there will arise 
a demand that they should also be levelled down. If 
a plasterer is worth as much as a constructional 
engineer, an oil-driller as much as a geologist (and 
according to modem capitalist-democratic theory 
they deserve the same wage inasmuch as each is a 
man or, in economic language, a consumer) — if this 
equality is considered just in theory and consecrated 
in practice by the payment of equal wages, then, it 
is obvious, there can be no justifiable inequality 
between the incomes of plasterer and engineer on 
the one hand, and company director and stockholder 



178 


REVOLUTIONS 


on the other. Either violently or, more probably, 
by a gradual and more or less painless process of 
propaganda, pressure of public opinion, and finally 
legislation, incomes will be levelled down as they are 
now being levelled up; vast fortunes will be broken 
up; ownership of joint-stock companies will be more 
and more widely distributed, and the directors of 
these enterprises will be paid as much as the most 
unskilled workman or the most learned scientific 
expert in their employ, as much and no more. For 
why should one consumer receive more than another? 
No man has more than one belly to fill with food, one 
back to put clothes on to, one posterior to sit in a 
motor car with. A century should see the more or 
less complete realization, in the industrial West, of 
Mr. Shaw’s dream of equal incomes for all. 

And when the dream has been actualized, what 
then? Will the spectre of revolution be definitively 
laid and humanity live happily ever aftei'wards ? 
Mr. Shaw, at any rate, seems to imagine so. Only 
once, if I remember, in the whole length of his Guid& 
to Socialism does he even suggest that man does 
not live by equal incomes alone; and then suggests 
it so lightly, so passingly, that the reader is still left 
with the impression that in equality of income lies 
the solution of every problem life has to offer. Fan- 
tastic doctrine, all the more absurd for being so 
apparently positivistic ! For nothing could be more 
chimerical than the notion that Man is the same thing 
as the Economic Man and that the problems of life, 
Man’s life, can be solved by any merely economic 
arrangement. To suppose that the equalization of 
income could solve these problems is only slightly less 
absurd than to suppose that they could be solved by 
the universal installation of sanitary plumbing or the 
distribution of Ford cars to every member of the 



REVOLUTIONS 


179 


human species. That the equalization of income 
might in some ways be a good thing is obvious. (It 
might also, in others, be bad; it would mean, for 
example, the complete practical realization of the 
democratic ideal, and this in its turn would mean, 
almost inevitably, the apotheosis of the lowest human 
values and the rule, spiritual and material, of the 
worst men.) But good or bad, the equalization 
of income can no more touch the real sources of present 
discontent than could any other large-scale book- 
keeping operation, such as, for example, a scheme 
to make possible the purchase of every conceivable 
commodity by deferred payments. 

The real trouble with the present social and in- 
dustrial system is not that it makes some people 
very much richer than others, but that it makes life 
fundamentally unlivable for all. Now that not only 
work, but also leisure has been completely mechanized ; 
now that, with every fresh elaboration of the social 
organization, the individual finds himself yet further 
degraded from manhood towards the mere embodi- 
ment of a social function; now that ready-made, 
creation-saving amusements are spreading an ever 
intenser boredom through ever wider spheres — ex- 
istence has become pointless and intolerable. Quite 
how pointless and how intolerable the great masses 
of materially-civilized humanity have not yet con- 
sciously realized. Only the more intelligent have 
consciously realized it as yet. To this realization the 
reaction of those whose intelligence is unaccompanied 
by ^ some talent, some inner urge towards creation, 
is an intense hatred, a longing to destroy. This type 
of intelligent hater-of-everything has been admirably, 
and terrifyingly, portrayed by M. Andxi Malraux in 
his novel, Les Conquerants. I recommend it to all 
sociologists. 



i8o REVOLUTIONS 

The time is not far off when the whole population 
and not merely a few exceptionally intelligent in- 
dividuals will consciously realize the fundamental 
unlivableness of life under the present regime. And 
what then? Consult M. Malraux. The revolution 
that will then break out will not be communistic — 
there will be no need for such a revolution, as I have 
already shown, and besides nobody will believe 
in the bettemient of humanity or in anything else 
whatever. It will be a nihilist revolution. De- 
struction for destruction's sake. Hate, universal 
hate, and an aimless and therefore complete and 
thorough smashing up of everything. And the level- 
ling up of incomes, by accelerating the spread of 
universal mechanization (machinery is costly), will 
merely accelerate the coming of this great orgy of 
universal nihilism. The richer, the more materially 
civilized we become, the more speedily it will arrive. 
All that we can hope is that it will not come in our 
time. 



PASCAL 


I 

§ I. The Orders 

'The infinite distance which separates bodies from 
minds symbolizes the infinitely more infinite distance 
between minds and charity; for charity is super- 
natural. 

All bodies, the firmament, the stars, earth and its 
kingdoms, are not worth the least of minds : for the 
mind knows all these things and itself; and bodies, 
nothing. 

All bodies together, and all minds together, and 
all their productions, are not worth the least move- 
ment of charity. That belongs to an infinitely higher 
order. 

Roll all the bodies in the world into one and you 
will not be able to get one little thought out of them. 
That is impossible, it belongs to another order. 
Similarly, from all bodies and minds you cannot 
draw a movement of true charity; for that too is 
impossible, that too belongs to another order, or 
supernatural order.' 

It would be easy to criticize these affirmations. 
To begin with, it is obvious that Pascal has no right 
to say that it is impossiUe for bodies to think. He is 
simply promoting his ignorance and his metaphysical 
prejudices to the rank of a general law. He would 
certainly have been less dogmatic if he had seen the 
highly emotional plants at the Bose Institute or War- 
burg's breathing carbon. True, it was not his fault 



PASCAL 


182 

that he lived before these experiments were made. 
But it was his fault that he did not see the purely 
philosophical objections to his analysis of reality. 
The idea of orders of existence is profound and 
fruitful, but only on condition that you choose your 
orders so that they correspond with observed reality. 
The Christian-Pascalian orders do not. Body, mind, 
and charity are not realities, but abstractions from 
reality. The solutions of continuity, so conspicuous 
in human life, a^e not between body, mind, and charity, 
but between different states of the total reality from 
which these hypothetical entities have been arbitrarily 
abstracted. Reality as we know it, is always a 
compound of the three elements into which Pascal 
divides it. And this in spite of idealism. For even 
if we grant the whole case of subjective idealism — 
and it is perhaps the only metaphysical system which 
is logically water-tight — ^we do nothing to diminish 
the importance of matter. Mind may be the creator 
of matter ; but that does not mean that it can deny 
the existence of its creature. The habit of seeing and 
touching material objects is a habit of which the mind 
cannot break itself. Matter may be illusory; but it 
is a chronic illusion. Whether we like it or not, it is 
always there. So, for the benefit of the materialists, 
is mind. So are, intermittently, the psychological 
states which have been regarded, rightly or wrongly, 
as being states of contact with a higher spiritual 
world. For the purposes of classification we can 
divide the total reality into matter, mind, and, 
finally, charity, grace, the supernatural, God, or 
whatever other name you care to bestow on the 
third of the Pascalian orders. But we must beware 
of attributing actuality to these convenient abstrac- 
tions; we must resist the temptation to fall down 
and worship the intellectual images carved by our- 



PASCAL 


I8a 


selves out of the world (whether objective or subjective, 
it makes no difference) with which experience has 
made us familiar. True, the temptation is strong; 
for the intellect has a special weakness for its own 
creations. Moreover, in this case the abstractions 
have actually been made the basis of a social reality. 
Men have actually tried to realize their classification 
in the structure of society. Pascal’s mistake consists 
in applying to individual psychology and the world 
at large the hierarchical classification of social func- 
tions into mechanic and liberal, spiritual and lay. 
Indeed, he did more than merely apply it : he assumed 
that it was inherent in human nature itself and even 
in non-human nature — that the caste system had an 
objective existence in the universe. A convenient 
social arrangement was thus promoted by him to the 
rank of a primordial fact of human psychology and 
cosmic structure. True, the particular social arrange- 
ment in question was a very convenient one. All tho 
great qualitative civilizations have been hierarchical. 
The fine arts and the arts of life have flouristysd most 
luxuriantly in those societies, in which a very sharp, 
distinction was drawn between mechanic and liberal 
occupations. Our modern civilization is quantitative 
and democratic. We draw no distinctions between 
mechanic and liberal — only between rich and poor. 
Western society has been wholly laicized — with most 
depressing effects on those human activities hitherto 
regarded as the most valuable. America has twenty- 
five million motor cars, but almost no original art. 

Pascal took the social hierarchy for granted. 
Naturally. He had never heard of a society in which 
the distinction between the lay and the spiritual 
was not sharply drawn. But he was not for that 
reason justified in supposing that the hierarchy 
existed objectively in nature. 



184 


PASCAL 


Reality, as we know it, is an organic whole. Separ- 
able in theory, the three Pascalian orders are in fact 
indissolubly wedded. Nor must we forget that 
matter, mind, and the supernatural are arbitrary 
abstractions from experience, and that other systems 
of classification are easily conceivable. The observed 
solutions of continuity are not, as Pascal maintains, 
between the three abstractions, which have no exist- 
ence outside the classif5dng intellect. They are 
rather between different states of the total reality 
as experienced by different individuals, and by the 
same individual at different times. Between the sick 
man and the healthy man, between the hungry and 
the full, the lustful and the satiated, the young and the 
old, between the normally and abnormally gifted, 
between the cultured European and the primitive 
Papuan, there yawn great gulfs of separation. 

Those who would learn how far it is possible for 
some one with an unusual temperament to dissociate 
himself from the moral and intellectual reality 
accepted as normal by the majority of Europeans 
should read Dostoievsky's Notes from Under gro%md. 
And what profoundly dissimilar universes may be 
inhabited by the same man at different seasons ! 
In the terrifying Death of Ivan Ilyitch Tolstoy has 
shown how deep, how wide, is the gulf which separates 
a man in health from the ' same man ' when death 
has laid its hand upon him. These two works of 
fiction are worth a whole library of treatises on the 
theory of knowledge and the nature of reality. Most 
philosophical argument is argument at cross purposes ; 
it is the angry shouting at one another of two people 
who use the same words but mean different things 
by them. It is the hopeless and futile squabbling 
of beings who belong in taste and feeling to distinct 
zoological species. One philosopher abuses another 



PASCAL 


185 

for having stupid and wicked views about the nature 
of things, without realizing that the things about 
whose nature he has such decided opinions are entirely 
different from the things the other fellow has been 
discussing. Their universes are parallel to one another ; 
this side of infinity they do not meet. 

§ 2. Private Universes 

Now, the universe in which each individual lives 
is an affair partly of heredity, partly of acquired habit. 
A man ma}^ be born with a strong tendency to inhabit 
one kind of universe rather than another; but this 
congenital tendency is never completely exclusive. 
The cosmos in which each of us lives is at least as 
much a product of education as of physiological inherit- 
ance; habit and a lifetime of repetitions determine 
its form and content. Its boundaries are fixed con- 
ventionally by a kind of inward Treaty of Versailles. 
It is a treaty, however, which Nature refuses to be 
rigidly and permanently bound by. When it suits 
the natural, hereditary man to recognize the Soviets 
of his own spirit, to make war on one of his Glorious 
Allies, or disestablish his private Church, he does so, 
with or without compunction, until the illegal action 
produces in due course a reaction towards legality, 
and he feels himself compelled once more to ratify 
his treaty. Men feel bound by a kind of intellectui 
and moral patriotism to defend in theory (even though 
in act they may betray it) the particular cosmos of 
their choice; they are jingo positivists, chauvinistic- 
ally mystical. But if they were sincere with them- 
selves they would realize that these patriotic ardours 
in matters of philosophy are not merely misplaced, 
but without justification. No man is by nature 
exclusively domiciled in one universe. All lives — 



PASCAL 


1 86 

even tlie lives of the men and women who have the 
most strongly-marked congenital tendencies — are 
passed under at least two flags and generally under 
many more. Even the most ardent positivist is 
sometimes carried away by a wave of mystical emotion. 
Even the most frenzied absolute-hunters, aesthetes, 
and idealists must compromise with the gross world 
of relativity and practice to the extent of eating, 
taking shelter from the weather, behaving at least 
conventionally enough to keep out of the clutches 
of the police. Even Podsnap may once have had 
inklings of the nature of love and poetry. Even 
the healthiest man, the most bottomlessly ' average ' 
and hard-headed of Ivan Il3dtches, feels the approach 
of death at least once in the course of his existence. 
Even the most pious Catholic is sometimes a Pyrrhonist 
— ^nay, ought to be a Pyrrhonist (it is Pascal himself 
who says it). The only completely consistent people 
are the dead; the living are never anything but 
diverse. But such is man's pride, such his intel- 
lectually vicious love of system and fixity, such his 
terror and hatred of life, that the majority of human 
beings refuse to accept the facts. Men do not want 
to admit that they are what in fact they are — each 
one a colony of separate individuals, ot whom now 
one and now another consciously lives with the life 
that animates the whole organism and directs its 
destinies. They want, in their pride and their terror, 
to be monsters of stiff consistency; they pretend, in 
the teeth of the facts, that they are one person ail the 
time, thinking one set of thoughts, pursuing one 
course of action throughout life. They insist on 
being either Pascal or Voltaire, either Podsnap or 
Keats, when in fact they are potentially always, 
and at different times actually, a little of what each 
of these personages symbolically stands for and a great 



PASCAL 


187 

deal more beside. My music, like that of every other 
living and conscious being, is a counterpoint, not a 
single melody, a succession of harmonies and discords. 
I am now one person and now another, ' aussi dijff6rent 
de moi-meme,' in La Rochefoucauld's words, * que 
des autres.' And I am always potentially and some- 
times actually and consciously both at once. In 
spite or rather because of this (for every ‘ in spite ' 
is really a ' because ') I have tried to pretend that I 
was superhumanly consistent, I have tried to force 
myself to be an embodiment of a principle, a walking 
system. But one can only become consistent by 
becoming petrified ; and a rigid philosophical system 
is only possible on condition that one refuses to 
consider all those necessarily numerous aspects of 
reality which do not permit themselves to be explained 
in terms of it. For me, the pleasures of living and 
understanding have come to outweigh the pleasures, 
the very real pleasures (for the consciousness of being 
a man of principle and system is extremely satisfying 
to the vanity), of pretending to be consistent. I prefer 
to be dangerously free and alive to being safely mum- 
mified. Therefore I indulge my inconsistencies. 
I try to be sincerely myself — that is to say, I try to be 
sincerely all the numerous people who live inside my 
skin and take their turn at being the master of my 
fate. 

It is, then, as a mixed being, as a colony of free 
and living minds, not as a single mind irrevocably 
committed, like a fossil fly in amber, to a single 
system of ideas, that I now propose to write of Pascal. 
As a positivist first of all, for the rationalizing part is 
one I find only too easy to play. More sympathetic- 
ally next, in the guise of a Pascalian ; for I too have 
sometimes found myself in other worlds than those 
familiar to the positivist, I too have chased the* 
G 



PASCAL 


i8S 

absolute in those remote strange regions beyond 
the borders of the quotidian consciousness. And 
finally as a worshipper of life, who accepts all the 
conflicting facts of human existence and tries to 
frame a way of life and a philosophy (a necessarily 
inconsistent way, a realistically self-contradictory 
philosophy) in accordance with them. To make a 
map of a mountain, to fix its position in space, we 
must look at it from every side, we must go all round 
it, climb all over it. It is the same with a man as 
with a mountain. A single observation does not 
suffice to fix his form and define his position in relation 
to the rest of the* world; he must be looked at from 
all sides. This is what I have tried to do with Pascal. 
There is little biography in this essay and no circum- 
ambient history. (To those who would see Pascal 
in relation to his own century I would recommend 
such works as Strowski’s Pascal et son Temps and 
Chevalier's Pascal,) I have sought to situate him 
in the eternal landscape of human psychology, to 
fix his position in relation to its unchanging features — 
to the body, the instincts, the passions and feelings, 
the speculative mind. Indeed, to any one who takes 
the trouble to read this study it will be sufficiently 
apparent that its subject is not really Pascal at ail, 
but this psychological landscape, Pascal is really 
only an excuse and a convenience. If I choose to 
write about him it is because he raises, either by 
implication in his life, or explicitly in his writings, 
practically all the major problems of philosophy and 
conduct. And raises them how masterfully i Never 
has the case against life been put with such subtlety, 
such elegance, such persuasive cogency, such admir- 
able succinctness. He explored the same country 
as I am now exploring; went, saw, and found it 
detestable. He said so, exhaustively — ^for his quick 



FAbCAL 


189 

eyes saw everything. All that, from his side, could 
be said, he said. His reports have accompanied 
me on my psychological travels ; they have been my 
Baedeker. I have compared his descriptions with 
the originals, his comments with my own reactions. 
In the margin of tiie guide-book I have pencilled a 
few reflections. This essay is made up of them. 
Pascal is only incidentally its subject. 


§ 3- The "Riddle 

In the form in which men have posed it, the Riddle 
of the Universe requires a theological answer. Suffer- 
ing and enjoying, men want to know why they enjoy 
and to what end they suffer. They see good things 
and evil things, beautiful things and ugly, and they 
want to find a reason — a final and absolute reason — 
why these things should be as they are. It is ex- 
tremely significant, however, that it is only in regard 
to matters which touch them very closely that men 
look for theological reasons — and not only look, but 
find as well, and in what quantities 1 With regard 
to matters which do not touch them to the quick, 
matters which are, so to speak, at a certain psycho- 
logical distance from themselves, they are relatively 
incurious. They make no effort to find a theologic^ 
explanation for them; they see the absurdity, the 
hopelessness, of even looking for such an explanation. 
What, for example, is the final, the theological reason 
for grass being green and sunflowers yellow? One 
has only to put the question to perceive that it is 
quite unanswerable. We can talk about light- 
waves, vibrating electrons, chlorophyll molecules, 
and such like; but any explanation we may offer 
in terms of these entities will only be an explanation 
of how grass is green, not of why it is green. There 



190 PASCAL 

is no ' why ’ — ^none, at any rate, that we can con- 
ceivably discover. Grass is green because that is how 
we see it; in other words, it's green because it is 
green. Now, there is no difference in kind between a 
green fact and a painful or beautiful fact, between a 
fact that is the colour of sunflowers and facts that are 
good or hellish : one class of facts is psychologically 
more remote than the other, that is all. Things 
are noble or agonizing because they are so. Any 
attempt to explain why they should be so is as inevit- 
ably predestined to failure as the attempt to explain 
why grass is green. In regard to greenness and other 
psychologically distant phenomena men have re- 
cognized the hopelessness of the task and no longer 
try to propound theological explanations. But they 
still continue to rack their brains over the riddles of 
the moral and aesthetic universes, they go on in- 
venting answers and even believing in them. 


§ 4 . Answers to the Riddle 

Pascal was well acquainted with the psycho- 
logical reasons for the asking and answering of cosmic 
riddles. ' II est bon,' he says, ' d'etre lass 6 et fatigue 
par I'inutile recherche du vrai bien, afin de tendre 
les bras au Libdrateur.' Borrowing a phrase from the 
Psalmist, he returns in another passage to the same 
theme. ' The waters of Babylon flow and fall and 
sweep away. O holy Zion, where all is stable and 
where nothing falls 1 ' The words are Pascal's, but 
they express an ancient and almost universal yearning, 
the yearning that has given birth to all the Gods 
and Goods, all the Truths and Beauties, all the Justices, 
the Revelations, the Ones, the Rights of a bewildered 
and suffering humanity. For the Absolute has 
aU too human parents. Fatigue and perplexity. 



PASCAL 


191 

wretchedness and the sentiment of transience, the 
longing for certainty, the desire for moral justifica- 
tion — these are its ancestors. ' Change and decay,' 
writes the author of the most popular of English 
hymns, ' change and decay in all around I see ; 
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.' From 
the fact of change and decay the logic of desire 
deduces the existence of something changeless. 
Appearances are multiple and chaotic ; if only things 
were simpler, easier to understand ! The wish 
creates ; it is desirable that there should be noumena ; 
therefore noumena exist and the noumenal world is 
more truly real than the world of everyday life. 
Quod erat demonstrandum, A similar conjuring trick 
produces the One out of the deplorably puzzling 
Many, draws the Good and the Beautiful out of the 
seething hotch-potch of diverse human tastes and 
sensibilities and interests, deduces Justice from our 
actual inequalities, and absolute Truth from the 
necessary and unescapable relativities of daily life. 
It is by an exactly similar process that children invent 
imaginary playmates to amuse their solitudes and 
transform a dull, uninteresting piece of wood into a 
horse, a ship, a railway train — ^what you will. The 
difference between children and grown-ups is that 
children do not try to justify their compensatory 
imaginations intellectually; whereas grown-ups, or 
rather adolescents (for the vast majority of chrono- 
logical adults have never grown, if they have emerged 
from childhood at all, beyond adolescence), do make 
the attempt. The newly conscious and the newly 
rational have all the defects of the newly rich ; they 
make a vulgar parade of their possessions, they 
swaggeringly advertise their powers. They review 
all the biolo^cally useful beliefs, all the life-stimulating 
fancies of individual or racial childhood, and pre- 



192 


PASCAL 


tentiously ‘ explain * them in terms of newly-dis- 
covered rationalism. The gods and fairies are re- 
placed by abstract noumena. Zeus fades away 
into Justice, Power, Oneness; Athene becomes 
Wisdom ; Aphrodite degenerates into Intellectual 
Beauty. In recent times this replacement of the old 
deities by hypostasized abstractions has been called 
' modernism/ and regarded, quaintly enough, as a 
spiritual advance, a liberation, a progress towards 
Truth. In reality, of course, the noumena invented 
by adolescent minds are, absolutely speaking, as 
false (or as true, there is no means of discovering 
which) as the mythological personages whose place 
they have usurped. As vital s3nnbols they are much 
less adequate. The childish fancies are inspired 
directly by life. The adolescent noumena are 
abstractions from Hfe, flights from diversity into 
disembodied oneness. The noumenal world is a 
most inadequate substitute for fairyland and Olympus. 

§ 5. Pascal and Rationalism 

Pascal was an intellectual adult who deliberately 
forced himself to think like a Christian philosopher — 
that is to say, like an unstably-balanced compound 
of child and adolescent. Towards the complacencies 
of the full-blown adolescent he was ruthless. A 
critic so acute, so intellectually grown-up, could not 
be expected to swallow the pseudo-logical arguments 
of the rationalists. * Laugh at philosophy,' was his 
advice, ‘ and you are a true philosopher/ He himself 
mocked wittily. ' Feu M. Pascal,' wrote a con- 
temporary, ' appelait la philosophic cartdsienne le 
Roman de la Nature, semblable k Don Quichotte.' 
What a high and, to my mind, what an undeserved 
compliment to Descartes 1 Most of those curious 



PASCAL 


193 


romances which we call philosophical systems are 
more like Sidney's Arcadia or the Grand Cyrus than 
Don Quixote. How proud I should be, if I were a 
metaphysician, to be mentioned in the same breath 
with Cervantes ! But Descartes, if he had heard 
the sally, would certainly have been more pained 
by it than pleased. For Descartes was a rationalist ; 
he believed in the reality of his abstractions. In- 
venting fictions, he imagined that he was revealing 
the Truth. Pascal knew better. Pascal was a critic 
and a realist; Pascal was intellectually grown-up. 
' Our soul,' he said, ' is thrown into the body, where it 
finds matter, time, dimension. Thereon it reasons 
and calls that nature and necessity, and cannot be- 
lieve in anything else.' And again : ' It is not in our 
capacity to know what God is, nor whether He exists.' 
We might be reading a discourse, mercifully abbrevi- 
ated, by Kant. It is unnecessary for me to rehearse 
the arguments by means of which Pascal demolished 
the pretensions of the rationalists to attain by human 
means to the knowledge of any absolute whatever. 
Montaigne's armoury was conveniently at hand; 
he sharpened and envenomed the P5rrrhonian weapons 
with which it was stored. Elegantly, artistically, 
but without mercy, the rationalists were slaughtered. 
Rather more than a hundred years later they were 
slaughtered again by Kant, and, after the passage 
of another century, yet once more, and this time 
with a Tamburlane-like ferocity and thoroughness, by 
Nietzsche. Pragmatists, humanists, philosophers of 
science continue the massacre. Hewn down, the 
rationalists sprout again like the Hydra's heads. 
The learned and the unlearned world is crammed with 
them. This survival of rationalism in the teeth of an 
unescapable destructive criticism is a tribute, if not to 
humanity's intelligence, at least to its love of life. 



194 


PASCAL 


For rationalism, in its rather ponderous and silly 
way, is an illusion with a biological value, a vital lie. 
' When the truth of a thing is unknown,' said Pascal, 
two hundred years before Nietzsche, * it is good that 
there should be a common error to fix men's minds.' 
The only defect of rationalism as a vital lie is that 
it is insufficiently vital. Vital lie for vital lie, poly- 
theistic mythology is preferable to the rationalists' 
system of abstractions. The falsehood of rationalism 
is manifest to any one who is ready to examine its 
paralogisms with the eyes of unprejudiced and dis- 
passionate intelligence. If it stimulates life, it does 
so only feebly. Being in the most eminent degree 
intelligent, Pascal realized that there was no hope 
of attaining by rational means the absolutes for which 
he longed. A rational absolute is a contradiction 
in terms. The only absolute which a man of in- 
telligence can believe in is an irrational one. It was 
his realization of the stupidity of rationalism that 
confirmed Pascal in his Catholicism, 

§ 6. Revelation 

* C'est en manquant de preuves,' he says of the 
Christians, " qu'ils ne manquent pas de sens.' The 
rationalists who are never in want of proofs thereby 
prove their own want of intelligence. Where abso- 
lutes are concerned, reason is unreasonable. ' 11 n'y 
a rien si conforme k la raison que ce desaveu de la 
raison.' Being reasonable, Pascal disavowed rational- 
ism and attached himself to revelation. The abso- 
lutes of revelation must be genuine absolutes, firm, 
eternal in the midst of life's indefinite flux, untainted 
with contingency. They must be genuine, because 
revelation is, by definition, non-human. But the 
definition of non-humanity is itself human; and 



PASCAL 


195 


the revelations are couched in human language, and 
are the work of individual human beings who lived 
all too humanly in space and time. We are fatally 
back again among the relativities. Nor will all the 
ingenious historical arguments contained in the later 
sections of the Pensees (arguments which Cardinal 
Ne%vman was later to develop with his usual subtlety) 
do anything to get us out of the relativities. Pascal 
tried to demonstrate the Historical Truth of the 
Christian revelation. But, alas I there is no such 
thing as Historical Truth — there are only more or 
less probable opinion.s about the past, opinions which 
change from generation to generation. History is a 
function, mathematically speaking, of the degree of 
ignorance and of the jxirsonal prejudices of historians. 
The history of an epoch which has left very few 
documents is at the mercy of archieological research ,* 
a happy discovery may necessitate its radical revision 
from one day to the next. In cases where circum- 
stances seem to have condemned us to a definitive 
and permanent ignorance, we might expect historical 
opinions to be at least as settled as the historians' 
lack of knowledge. But this occurs only when the 
events in question are indifferent. So long as past 
events continue to possess a certain actuality their 
history will vary from age to age, and the same 
documents will be reinterpreted, the same definitive 
ignorance will be made the basis of ever new opinions. 
Where documents are numerous and contradictory 
(and such is the fallibility of human testimony that 
numerous documents are always contradictory), each 
historian will select the evidence which fits in with 
his own prejudices, and ignore or disparage all the 
rest. The nearest approach to Historical Truth is 
the fixed opinion entertained by successive historians 
about past events in which they take no vital interest- 



196 PASCAL 

Opinions about mediaeval land tenure are not likely 
to undergo serious fluctuations, for the good reason 
that the question of mediaeval land tenure possesses, 
and will doubtless continue to possess, a purely 
academic interest. Christianity, on the other hand, 
is not an academic question. The documents deal- 
ing with the origins of the religion are therefore 
certain to undergo a constant process of reinterpre- 
tation. Doubtful human testimonies (all human 
testimony is doubtful) have given birth to, and will 
continue, so long as Christianity preserves a more 
than academic interest, to justify, a variety of 
opinions in variously constituted, variously preju- 
diced minds. This is the reality out of which Pascal 
tried to extract that non-existent thing, the Historical 
Truth. 


§ 7. Historical Grounds of Pascal* s Faith 

It may seem strange that Pascal should not have 
realized the uselessness of trying to find an absolute 
even in revealed religion. But if he failed to treat 
Catholicism as realistically as he treated other doc- 
trines, that was because he wanted to believe in its 
absolutes. He felt a need for absolutes, and this 
temperamental need was stronger than his intelli- 
gence. Of Pascal's temperament, of that strange 
soul of his, ' naturaliter Christiana,' but with such 
a special and rather dreadful kind of Christianity, I 
shall speak later. In this place I shall only mention 
the external circumstances which quickened his 
desire to believe in the Catholic absolutes. Those 
middle years of the seventeenth century, which were 
the historical scene of Pascal's brief existence, were 
years, for Europe, of more than ordinary restlessness 



PASCAL 


197 


and misery. Germany was being devastated by the 
most bloodthirsty of religious wars. In England the 
Parliament was fighting with the King. France was 
agitated by the pointless skirmishing of the Fronde. 
It was the Europe, in a word, of Callot's etchings. 
Along its roads marched companies of liungry and 
marauding pikemcn; its crows were busy on the 
carcases that dangled from the branches of every 
well-grown oak. There was raping and casual plunder- 
ing, shooting and hanging in plenty, with torture to 
relieve the monotony and breakings on the wheel as 
a Sunday treat. To Pascal, as he looked at the 
world about him, peace seemed the supremely desir- 
able thing, peace and order. The political situation 
was much the same as that which, m our own clays, 
made Mussolini the saviour of his country, justified 
Primo dc Rivera, and recruited so many adherents 
to the cause of the Action Fran^aisc. Our modern 
anarchy has made of the unbelieving Charles Maurras 
an enthusiastic upholder of Catholici.sm. Pascal was 
a Maurras who believed in Catholicism to the point 
of thinking it true as well as politically useful, of 
regarding it as being good for himself as well as for 
the lower classes. Pa-scal's remedy for the disorders 
of his time was simple ; passive obedience to the 
legally constituted authority — to the King in France, 
for example, to the Republic in Venice, For men 
to rebel against the masters Providence has given 
them is a sin; the worst of evils is civil war. It is 
the political wisdom of despair. To long, in the 
midst of anarchy, for peace and order at any price 
one need not be a Christian, PascaPs counsels of 
passive despair took their origin in political events, 
not in his Catholic convictions. But his Catholic 
convictions justified them. For man, being utterly 
corrupt, is incapable of bringing forth, without divine 



PASCAL 


198 

assistance, any good thing. It is therefore folly to 
rebel, tolly to wish to change existing institutions; 
for the new state of things, being the work of cor- 
rupted human nature, must infallibly be as bad as 
that which it replaces. The wise man is therefore 
he who accepts the existing order, not because it is 
just or makes men happy, but simply because it 
exists and because no other order would be any 
juster or succeed in making men any happier. 

History shows that there is a good deal of truth 
in Pascal's views. The hopes of revolutionaries have 
always been disappointed. But for any one who 
values life as life, this is no argument against attempt- 
ing revolutions. The faith in the efficacy of revolu- 
tions (hdwever ill-founded events may prove it to 
be) is a stimulus to present living, a spur to present 
action and thought. In the attempt to realize the 
illusory aims of revolution, men are induced to live 
more intensely in the present, to think, do, and suffer 
with a heightened energy; the result of this is that 
they create a new reality (very different, no doubt, 
from that which they had hoped to create, but that 
does not matter; the important fact is that it is 
new). The new reality imposes new hopes and faiths 
on those who live in the midst of it, and the new 
hopes and faiths stimulate men to intenser living 
and the creation of yet another new reality. And 
so on indefinitely. But this is an argument which 
would most certainly hhve failed to make Pascal a 
revolutionary. Pascal had no wish to have present 
Hving intensified. He detested present living. For 
present living is a tissue of concupiscences, and there- 
fore thoroughly anti-Christian. He would have 
liked to see present living abolished; therefore he 
had no patience with any doctrine, religious, philo- 
sophical, or social, calculated to enhance the vital 





process. The Christianity which he chose to practise 
and believe in was duly anti-vitaL 


§ 8. Personal Grounds : the Ecstasy 

It is, I I'epcat, in Callot's etchings of the Horrors 
of War that the political reasons for PascaFs Catholi- 
cism are to be found, just as it is in the newspaper 
man’s snapshots of proletarian mobs ' demonstrat- 
ing ’ in the industrial towns and capitalist mobs 
drearily and expensively amusing themselves at 
Monte Carlo, that we must look for an explanation 
of the Catholicism of M. Maurras. But Pascal had 
other, more cogent, personal reasons for believing. 
The record of his sudden apocalyptic conversion— 
that famous ‘ Memorial ' which was found, after his 
death, sewn like a talisman in the lining of his clothes 
— is a document of the iiighest interest, not only for 
the light it throws on Pascal himself, but also for 
what it tells us of the mystical experience in general 
and of the way in which that experience is interpreted. 

I reproduce the text in its entirety : — 

I/an de ^T^LCo 1654. 

Lundy 23 novembro, jour de St. Clement, pape 
et inartir et autres au martirologe 
veille de St, Chrysogone martir, et autres 
Depuis environ dix iicures et <iemy du soir jusques environ 
minuit et demy, 

Fcq 

Dicu d*Abraham, Dieu d'lsaac, Dicu dc Jacob 
Non dcs pbilosophes et des s^avans 
Certitude, certitude sentiment Joye Pabc. 

Lieu de J^sus Christ 
I>cum meum et Deum vestram 
Ton Dieu sera mon Dieu 
Oubly du monde ct de tout, hormis Dieu, 

II ne sc trouve qua par Ics voyes enseignf^es dans Flivangile 

Grandeur de ram© humaine 



200 


PASCAL 


P6re juste, le monde ne t’a point conrni, mais je t'ay connu 
Joye, joye, joye, pleurs de joye 
Je m'en snis separ6 
Dereliquerunt me fontem aquae vivae 
Mon Dieu, me qnitterez-vous ? 

Que je n"en sois pas separ6 6temellement 
Je m'en suis separ6; je Tay fui renonc6 crucifix 
Que je n’en sois jamais separ6 

II ne se conserve que par les voyes enseignees dans TJ^vangile 
Renonciation totalle et douce. 

Soumission totale a J6sus Christ et mon directeur 
Etemellement en joye pour un jour d'exercice sur la terre. 
Non obUviscar sermones tuas. Amen. 

To any one who reads this ‘ Memorial ' with care 
it is at once obvious that its substance is not homo- 
geneous. It is, so to speak, stratified, built up of 
alternate layers of direct experience and intellectual 
interpretations after the fact. Even the date is a 
mixture of straightforward chronology and Christian 
hagiography. Monday, November the twenty-third, 
is also the eve of St. Chrysogonus's day. With the 
first word, ‘ feu,' we are in the midst of pure experi- 
ence. Fire — it is the mystical rapture in the raw, 
so to speak, and undigested. The next two lines are 
layers of interpretation. Meditating on that inward 
conflagration which bums in the * feu ' of the first 
line, Pascal comes to the conclusion that it has been 
lighted by ' the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 
not of the philosophers and men of science.' There 
follows another stratum of pure experience. ' Certi- 
tude, certitude, feeling, |oy, peace ' ; the violence of 
rapture has been succeeded by ecstatic calm. The 
mind once more steps in and explains these experi- 
ences in terms of a hypothesis which Pascal has 
telegraphically summarized in the words ' Dicu de 
Jesus Christ.' 

With * Oubly du monde et de toute, hoimis Dieu ' 
we move away from the realm of interpretation 





201 


towards that of immediate psychological experience. 
Proceeding, we pass through several strata of doc- 
trinal Meditations, to reach in ‘ Joye, joye, joye, 
plcurs de joye ' yet another layer of pure experience. 
The next lines, from * Je m*en suis separc ' to ‘ Que 
je n'cn sois pias scparc eterneilcment/ are strata of 
mixed substance — records of direct or remembered 
experiences conditioned, as to mode and quality, by 
a theological hypothesis. For, it is obvious, emo- 
tional experience and intellectuai interpretation of 
that experience cannot be kept permanently separated 
in dternating strata. Crudely and schematically, 
what hap>pens is this : something is directly experi- 
enced; this experience is intellectually interpreted, 
generally in terms of some existing system of meta- 
physics or mythology; the myth, the philosophical 
system are regarded as true and become in their 
turn the source of new experiences and the channels 
through which the old emotions must pass. Pascal's 
' Memorial ' illustrates the whole process. In what 
I may call its upper strata we have alternating 
layers of pure experience and pure interpretation — 
fire and tlie God of Abraham; Certitude, Joy, Peace, 
and the God of Jesus Christ. Later on he gives 
expression to what I may call secondary emotions — 
emotions aroused in him by his reflections on the 
after-the-fact interpretation of the primary mystical 
emotioiis. He feels the terror of being separated 
from the God he has called in to explain his original 
sensations of joy and peace. 

That the mystical experience need not necessarily 
be interpreted as Pascal interpreted it, is obvious. 
Substantially similar experiences have been explained 
in terms of Buddhism, Brahmanism, Mohammedan- 
ism, Taoism, Shamanism, Neo-Platonism, and count- 
less other religions and philosophies. They have also 



202 


PASCAL 


frequently been left uninterpreted. In the corre- 
spondence of William James, for example, there is 
an interesting letter describing what is obviously a 
full-blown ecstasy, for which, however, James does 
not presume to suggest any metaphysical explana- 
tion. Wisely; for the mystical experience is like 
all other primary psychological facts, susceptible of 
none but a tautological explanation. These things 
happen because they do happen, because that is 
what the human mind happens to be like. Between 
the various explanatory hypotheses in terms of the 
' God of Abraham,' Nirvana, Allah, and the rest, 
there is nothing to choose ; in so far as each of them 
claims to be the unattainable Truth, and aU of them 
postulate a knowledge of the unknowable Absolute, 
they are all equally ill-founded. 


§ 9. The Humanist and the Christian 

Pascal's metaphysic may be described as a kind of 
positivistic Pyrrhonism tempered, and indeed flatly 
denied, by dogmatic Christianity. His morality is 
similarly self-contradictory. For Pascal prescribes 
at the same time a more than Aristotelian modera- 
tion and a Christian excess. He rebukes men for 
pretentiously trying to be angels, and in the same 
breath rebukes them for being human. * L'homme 
est ni ange ni b^te, et le malheur veut que qui veut 
faire Tange fait la b6te.' Alas 1 the facts prove 
Pascal only too right. The would-be angels of this 
world ' font la b^te ' in every possible sense of the 
word : they become either beasts or silly — frequently 
both at once. The realistic wisdom of Pascal re- 
veals itself in a remark like the following : ' I am 
perfectly willing to take my place in it [the middle, 
human world between beast and angel], and refuse 



PASCAL 


203 


to be at the lower end, not because it is low, but 
because it is an end; for I should equally refuse to 
be placed at the upper extremity/ And again : ' To 
step out of the micldlc way is to step out of humanity. 
The greatness of the human soul consists in knowing 
how to hold to the middle way/ Pascal lets fall 
many other aphorisms of the same kind. ' It is not 
good to be too free. It is not good to have aU the 
necessities of life/ ' Les grands efforts de /esprit, 
oii Tame touche quelquefois, sent choses oh elle ne 
se tient pas ; ellc y saute quelquefois.' ' How much 
a man's virtue is capable of must be measured, not 
by his efforts, but by his ordinary behaviour.' And 
so on. 

But this humanistic wisdom was, in Pascal, only 
occasional and theoretical. He himself did not prac- 
tise what he preached. What he practised is admir- 
ingly recorded in his sister's biography. * Always 
and in all things he used to act on principles. . . . 
It was not possible for him to abstain from using 
his senses; but when necessity obliged him to give 
them some pleasure he had a wonderful capacity 
for averting his spirit $0 that it should take no part 
in the pleasure. At meals we never heard him praise 
the viands that were served him. . . . And when 
anybody . . . admired the excellence of some dish, 
he could not abide it ; for he called that being 
sensual " . , . because, said he, it was a sign that 
one ate to please one's taste, a thing that was always 
wrong. ... In the early days of his retreat he had 
calculated the amount of food required for the needs 
of his stomach, and from that time forward, what- 
ever might be his appetite, he never passed that 
measure; and whatever disgust he might feel, he 
made a point of eating the quantity he had fixed.' 
His stomach was not the only part of him that 



204 


PASCAL 


Pascal mortified. ' The spirit of mortification, which 
is the very spirit of charity/ inspired him to have a 
spiked iron belt made for himself. This belt he 
would put on whenever a visitor came to see him, 
and when he found himself taking pleasure in the 
conversation, or feeling in the least vain of his powers 
as a spiritual guide, ‘ II se donnait des coups de 
coude pour redoubler la violence des piqures, et se 
faire ensuite ressouvenir de son devoir.' Later, when 
his illness made it impossible for him to concentrate 
on his studies, he wore the belt continually, that 
the pricking of it might excite liis mind to continual 
fervour. 

In the intervals of these ascetic practices Pascal 
wrote on the necessity of keeping to the middle road, 
of remaining human. But this was all abstraction 
and theory. Christianity would not peimit him to 
behave hellenically, just as it would not permit him 
to think like a Pyrrhonist. Pascal, the philosopher, 
looked at the world and concluded that * qui veut 
faire Tange fait la bete.' But revealed religion in- 
sisted that he should try to be an angel of self-denial, 
of conscious and consistent other-worldliness. He 
made the effort and became — ^what? Perhaps an 
angel in some other world ; who knows ? The phil- 
osopher can only answer for this ; and in this world 
the would-be angel duly and punctually * faisait la 
b6te/ That he had a horror of every form of sensu- 
ality goes without saying. He hated all lovers and 
their desires. He hated the beauty that inspired 
these impure longings. * If I happened to say, for 
example, that I had seen a handsome woman,' writes 
Mme. Perier, ' he would reprimand me, saying that 
such a remark should never be made in the presence 
of servants and young people, as I did not know 
what thoughts it might excite in them/ Of marriage 



PASCAL 


205 


he said, in a letter to his sister, that it was 'imc 
esp^ce d'homicide et comme un deicide/ For thos^. 
who marry become exclusively interested in the 
creature, not the creator; the man who loves a 
woman kills God in his own mind and, by killing 
God, in the end kills himself — eternally. 

PTe mistrusted even maternal love, ' Je n'oserais 
dire/ writes Mme. Perier, ' qull ne pouvait meme 
souffrir les caresses que je recevais de mes enfants; 
il pretendait que cela ne pouvait que leur ’nuire, 
qi/on lour pouvait temoigner de la tendresse en 
millc aulres ntaniercs.' Towards the end of his life 
this man of principles would not even permit him- 
self the pleasure of being attached to his friends and 
relations, nor of being loved by them in return. ' It 
was one of the fundamental maxims of his piety 
never to allow any one to love liim with attach- 
ment; and he gave it to be understood that this 
was a fault in regard to which men did not examine 
themselves with sufficient care, a fault that had 
serious conse(|ucnces, and the more to be feared in 
that it often seemed to us devoid of all danger/ 
flow dangerous Pascal himself considered it, may be 
judged from these words from a little memorandum 
which he carried about with him, and which ]ivas 
found on his person after his death : ‘ That people 
should attach themselves to me is not just, ... I 
should be deceiving those in whom I inspired the 
wish to do so; for I am no man's goal and have 
nothing wherewith to satisfy them, . , . If I make 
people love me, if I attract them to myself, I am 
guilty; for tlieir lives and all their cares should be 
devoted to attaching themselves to God or to seeking 
him/ 



2o6 


PASCAL 


§ 10. The Sick Ascetic 

Principles, the desire to be angeKcally consistent, 
caused him to ' faire la b^te ' outside the sphere of 
personal behaviour and human relations as well as 
within. Art, for example, he disliked because it 
was different from morality, and it was to morality 
that he had given his exclusive allegiance. In art, 
he says, ' la regie est [he means ' doit §tre '] Thon- 
n^tete. Poete et non honnete homme.' How he 
hated the poets for having other rules than those of 
virtue and for behaving like men rather than like 
good men ! He felt ail the Puritan’s disapproval 
of the theatre because it made people think about 
love, and because it gave them pleasure. Anything 
that gave pleasure was odious to this great hater. 
That section of the Pensees which deals with worldly 
distractions is perhaps the most vigorous of the 
whole book ; hatred improved his style. He loathed 
his fellows for being able to amuse themselves. He 
would have liked all men to be as he himself was — 
racked with incessant pain, sleepless, exhausted by 
illness. ' Sickness,’ he af&rmed, ' is the Christian’s 
natural state; for in sickness a man is as he ought 
always to be — in a state, that is to say, of suffering, 
of pain, of privation from all the pleasures of the 
senses, exempt from all passions.’ Such was the 
opinion of Pascal, the Christian dogmatist; Pascal, 
the philosopher, looked at the matter rather differ- 
ently. ' We have another principle of error in our 
illnesses. They spoil our judgment and sense.’ The 
Christian’s natural state is therefore, philosophically, 
a state of chronic error. The sick man has no right 
to pass judgment on the activities of health. A 
man who has no ear is not the best critic of Mozart’s 
quartets ; and similarly a moralist ’ deprived of all 



PASCAL 


207 


the pleasures of the senses, exempt from all passions/ 
is not the person best qualified to speak ot ' temp- 
tations ’ and man's ' lower nature/ Only the musical 
can understand the significance of music, and only 
the sensual and the passionate can understand the 
significance of the senses and the passions. The 
sick ascetic can understand nothing of these things, 
for the simple reason that he cannot, or deliberately 
does not, experience the emotions or perform the 
acts which he sets out to criticize. He makes a 
virtue of necessity and calls his debility by sacred 
names. ‘ Those who restrain Desire,' says Blake, ‘ do 
so because tlieirs is weak enough to be restrained.' 
Pascal's sick body was naturaliter Chn&tianum, 

* line douleur de tete comme insupportable, une 
chalcur d'entrailles et beaucoup d'autres maux,' 
would have made it extremely hard for him to be 
a pagan. Nietzsche would have been tempted by 
the very (lifficulty of the undertaking to try; for 
Nietzsche held that a sick man had no right to be 
an ascetic— it was too easy. Not so Pascal; he 
accepted lus sickne.ss, and even persuaded himself 
that he was grateful for the headache and the heat 
in the entrails. And not only did he accept sickness 
for himself; he even tried to impose it on other 
people. He demanded that every one should think 
and feel about the world at large as he did; he 
wanted to impose headaches, sleeplessness, and dys- 
pepsia, with their accompanying psychological state.^, 
on all. Those of its, however, who are blessedly 
free from these diseases will refuse to accept Pascal's 
neuralgia-metaphysic, just as we refuse to accept 
the asthma-philosophy of a more recent invalid of 
genius, Marcel Proust. 



20S 


PASCAL 


II 

§ II. Nature of the Normal Universe 

The second section of this essay shall begin where 
the first ended — with asthma and neuralgia, with 
heat in the entrails and insupportable pains in the 
head. Pascal, as we have seen, pronounced himself 
as contradictorily about sickness as about most other 
subjects. What he describes as one of the great 
sources of error is also the Christian's natural state. 
If he had been asked to reconcile the two pronounce- 
ments he would doubtless have replied that what 
seems error to the normal man, to a member of the 
* omnitude,' is not necessarily error in the eyes of 
God — may, in fact, be the truth. For after all, 
what is our currently accepted 'reality'? What 
is ‘ the normal ' ? What is ' common sense ' ? What 
are the ' laws of thought ' and the ' boundaries of 
the knowable ' ? They are merely more or less 
long-established conventions. 

Our normal common-sense universe is the product 
of a particular habit of perception — perhaps a bad 
habit, who knows? A slight change in the nature 
of our sense organs would make it unrecognisably 
unlike its present self. Henri Poincar^ has described 
some of the worlds which such changes in our struc- 
ture would automatically call into existence. Ex- 
tremely interesting in this context are certain recent 
studies of the universes inhabited by the lower 
animals. The world, for example, in which a sea- 
urchin has its being is a world, for us, of water, 
rocks, sand, weeds, and marine animals. For the 
urchin, however, not one of these things even exists. 
The universe perceived (which is the same thing as 
saying ‘ created ') by its organs of toiich is utterly 



PASCAL 


2og 


unlike that in which we humans arbitrarily locate it. 
By modifying the apparatus with which we perceive 
(and the apparatus with which we perceive is the 
apparatus with which we create), sickness modifies 
the universe. For one man to impose his particular 
universe on another is almost as uniustifiable as 
it is for a man to impose a human universe on a 
sea-urchin. 

In the course of the la.st century or two a consider- 
able number of what once were necessities of thought 
and immutable laws of nature have been shown to 
be systems arbitrarily fabricated by human beings to 
serve particular human ends. Thus, God is no 
longer bound, as he once was, to obey the decrees 
promulgated by Euclid in 300 B.c. He can now 
take his choice among a v^ariety of geometries. Geo- 
metries and laws of nature are among the latest 
products of the human spirit; they have not had 
time to take root. Such slightly formed habits are 
relatively easy to break. But there are habits of 
perception and thought incomparably more ancient, 
and so deeply ingrained that it seems hardly possible 
for us to interpret experience except in the terms 
of them. Tims, the habit of living in space and 
time is one which was evidently formed by our 
remotest ancestors. And yet men are now able, 
if not to live, at least to think in terms of a four- 
dimensional continuum; and when they deal with 
the sul>-atomic world of electrons and protons, they 
must get rid of temporal and spatial notifns alto- 
gether. The universe of the infinitely little is radic- 
ally unlike the macroscopic universe which we 
inhabit. Modern physical theory shows that Pascal 
was qxiite right to insist on its strangeness. In the 
case of time it seems possible for us to live in a universe 
where the ordi|iary temporal relations do not hold. 



210 


PASCAL 


There is tolerably good evidence to show that the 
future is in certain circumstances foreseeable (especi- 
ally in dreams, if we can believe Mr. Dunne, the 
author of that very interesting book. An Experiment 
with Time). It is quite conceivable that a technique 
of prevision may in time be perfected, and that the 
prophetic powers at present, it is to be presumed, 
latent in the vast majority of individuals will be 
actualized. In which case our normal universe 
would be changed out of aU recognition. 


§ 12. The Sick Man's Universe : its Justification 

Sickness modifies our perceiving apparatus, and 
so modifies the universe in which we live. Which is 
more real, which is nearer to the thing in itself per- 
ceived by God — the healthy man's universe or the 
sick man's? It is clearly impossible to answer with 
certainty. The healthy man has the majority on his 
side. But vox populi is not vox Dei. For practical, 
social purposes the normal universe is certainly the 
most convenient we can inhabit; but convenience 
is not a measure of Truth- The healthy man labours 
under the grave disadvantage of not being disinter- 
ested. The world for him is a place to get on in, a 
place where the fittest to survive survive. Will he, 
nill he, he sees the utilitarian aspects of things. Sick- 
ness transports a man from the battlefield where the 
struggle for existence is being waged, into a region 
of biological detachment; he sees something other 
than the merely useful. Dostoievsky's Idiot, Prince 
Mishkin, was an epileptic. Each of his fits was 
preceded by an apocal 5 q?tic mystical experience. 
Thinkers of the Max Nordau school would ' explain ' 
the experience in terms of the epilepsy — ^would 
explain it away, in fact. But the revelation is not 



PASCAL 


2TI 


the less credible for being accompanied by the fit; 
it is, on the contrary, more credible. For the fit 
detaches the mind from utilitarian reality and per- 
mits it to perceive, or create for itself, another reality, 
less superficial and tendencious than the normal 
utilitarian one of every day. (To be able to see 
things in the same disinterested way, with the eyes 
of a child, a god, a noble savage, is the mark and 
privilege of the artist. The artist is a man who has 
revelations without having to pay for them with 
epileptic fits.) The Nordauites, who see everything 
sub specie Podsnapitatis, cannot forgive Mishkin, or 
for that matter, Shakespeare, Blake, Beethoven, for 
seeing them sub specie Aeternitatis, They refuse to 
admit the validity of Mishkin's experience. They 
might as well refuse to admit the validity of their 
own sense impressions. F'or the mystic or the artist 
his revelation is a psychological fact, like colour 
or sound. It is given : there is no getting away 
from it. 

Men of talent may be described as a special class 
of chronic invalids. The one-and-a-half wit is as 
abnormal as the half-wit, and may as justifiably, 
since sanity is only a question of statistics, be called 
mad. There is a class of all-too-normal people who 
take a peculiar pleasure in asserting that all great 
men have been diseased and lunatic ; it is their way 
of venting a natural but not very engaging envy, of 
avenging themselves on their superiors for being so 
manifestly superior. But even if it could be proved 
that these people were right and that all men of 
genius were neurotic, or syphilitic, or tuberculous, it 
would make not the slightest difference ; Shakespeare 
may have been the sort of man that a good eugenist 
would castrate at sight, but that does not prevent 
him from being tl» author of Antony and Cleopatra 



212 


PASCAL 


and Macbeth. The canaille hates its betters for not 
being like itself. Its yapping can be ignored. All 
that its arguments amount to is simply this : that 
the men of talent are different from the Podsnapian 
canaille and have free access to universes which 
heredity and habit have closed to the common run 
of humanity. Illness may facilitate their entry into 
these non-Podsnapian universes of disinterested con- 
templation, If it does, then illness is a good. And 
in any case the acts and works of genius remain 
what they are, whatever the state of health of their 
authors. The medical denunciations of tiie all-too- 
normal are entirely irrelevant, and would be merely 
comic if the denouncers were not rendered dangerous 
by their numbers and influence. It is alarming, for 
example, to discover that the Eugenists are working 
to make the world safe for Podsnappery. According 
to Major Leonard Darwin, the fittest to survive are 
those who can earn most money. The deserving 
rich must be encouraged to propagate their kind; 
the poor, whatever the cause of their poverty, whether 
it be illness, eccentricity, too much or too little 
intelligence, must be discouraged and if necessary 
sterilized. If Major Darwin gets his way, the world 
in a few generations will be peopled exclusively by 
Podsnaps and Babbitts. A consummation, it is 
obvious, devoutly to be hoped. 

Pascal justified his asceticism on theological 
grounds. Christianity commands us to mortify the 
flesh and to be without concupiscence for the things 
of the world. Christianity is divinely inspired. Not 
to be ascetic is therefore an act of blasphemous 
rebellion. But asceticism can be justified without 
invoking the aid of a revelation which no amount of 
historical evidence can possibly guarantee. It can 
be justified on purely psychological grounds. Ascetic 



PASCAL 


213 


practices are methods for artificially inducing a kind 
of mental and physical abnormality or sickness. 
This sickness modifies the ascetic's perceiving appar- 
atus, and his universe is consequently changed. 
Certain of his states are so strange that he feels, if 
he is religious, that he is in direct communication 
with the deity. (Which, of course, he may be. Or 
may not. We arc not in a position to affirm or 
deny.) Anyhow, such states are felt by the ascetic 
to be of the highest value. This is a direct intuition, 
about which there can be no argument. If the 
ascetic feels that such states, along with the universe 
corresponding to them, are valuable, then he is 
obviously ju.stified in continuing the practices which 
tend to induce them. 

§ 13. Pascal and Death 

With Pascal, as with all other mystics, ecstasy was 
only a very occasional state. So far as we know, 
indeed, he had only one experience of its joys. Only 
once was he touched with the divine fires. His 
daily, his chronic revelation was of darkness, and 
the source of that revelation was not the God of 
Life ; it w^as Death. 

After a moonless night the dawn is a kind of de- 
cadence. Darkness is limitless and empty; liglit 
comes, filling the void, peopling infinity with small 
irrelcvancics, setting bounds to the indefinite. The 
deepest, the most utter darkness is death's; in the 
dark idea of death we come as near to a realization 
of infinity as it is possible for finite beings to come. 
Pascal early made the acquaintance of death. Tlirough 
all the latjsr years of his brief existence he lived sur- 
rounded by the bottomless obscurities of death. 
Those metaphysical gulfs which were said to have 



214 


PASCAI. 


accompanied him wherever he went were openings 
into the pit of death. All his meditations on the 
infinities of littleness and greatness, on the infinite 
distance between body and mind and the infinitely 
more infinite distance between mind and charity, 
were inspired by death, were rationalizations of his 
sense of death. Death even prompted some of his 
mathematical speculations ; for if it is true, in PascaFs 
words, that * m^me les propositions g^omdtriques 
deviennent sentiments,' the converse is no less cer- 
tain. Sentiments are rationalized as geometrical 
propositions. When Pascal speculated on the mathe- 
matical infinite, he was speculating on that un- 
plumbed darkness with which death had surrounded 
him. Pascal's thoughts become intelligible only on 
condition that we look at them against this back- 
ground of darkness. A man who has realized infinity, 
not intellectually, but with his whole being, realized 
it in the intimate and terrifying realization of death, 
inhabits a different universe from that which is the 
home of the man to whom death and infinity are 
only names. 


Ill 

§ 14. The God of Life 

But there is a revelation of life as well as a revela- 
tion of death; to Pascal that revelation was never 
vouchsafed. It seemed to him incredible that men 
should busy themselves with their petty affairs, their 
trivial pleasures, instead of with the huge and fright- 
ful problems of eternity. Himself hemmed in by 
the darkness of death, he was astonished that other 
people contrived to think of anything else. This 



FASCAJL 


215 


disregard of death and infinity seemed to him so 
strange, that he was forced to regard it as super- 
natural. * C'est un appesantissement de la main 
de Dieu,' was his conclusion. And he was right. 
God does lay his hand on those who can forget the 
darkness and death and infinity — but lays it upon 
them not in anger, not as a punishment, as Pascal 
imagined, but encouragingly, helpfully. For the 
God who forbids men to think incessantly of the in- 
finite darkness is a God of Life, not of Death, a God 
of diversity, not of frozen unity. I^ascal hates the 
world because it has ' Ic pouvoir de ne pas songer k 
ce qu'il ne veut pas songer.' But the God of Life 
demands that men shall live; and in order that 
they may live, they must have desire; and in order 
that they may have desire, they must live in a world 
of desirable things. But ' le fmi s'an^antit en pres- 
ence de rinfmi, et devient un pur ndant.' There- 
fore finite things must not be kept in contact with 
the infinite, because if they were they would lose 
their desirability and men would cease to desire them 
and so would cease to live. (Pascal's infinite, it 
should be noticed, is something external to the finite 
world. The spirit that sees infinity in a grain of 
sand and eternity in a flower is a life-worshipping 
spirit, not one enamoured of death.) Not to desire, 
not to live, would be a blasphemy and a rebellion 
against the God of Life. So the God of Life lays his 
hand upon men and gives them power not to think 
the thoughts they do not wish to have; he bestows 
the grace of life upon them that they may spend 
their little time on earth, not in trying to discover 
whether their eternal death-sentence has been passed, 

' mais k jouer au piquet.' * It is supernatural/ cries 
Pascal; and we can agree with him. The God of 
Life is a powerful God; Pascal knew it, and used 



2I6 


PASCAL 


all the arts of logic and persuasion to convert men 
from his worship to that of Death, But in vain. 
Men still refuse to spend their lives thinking of 
death, still refuse to contemplate that dark in&iite 
whose enormousness reduces to nothingness all the 
objects of their finite desires; they prefer to think 
of ‘ dancing, of playing the lute, of singing, of making 
verses.' Even when their only son has died, they 
hunt the boar or play fives, or try to make them- 
selves king. Why? Because life is diverse, because 
they are not always the same. They think of death 
when death is near, and of the boar when the boar 
is near. ' S'il ne s'abaisse pas a cela/ concludes 
Pascal, the philosopher, ' et veuille toujours etre 
tendu, il n'en sera que plus sot, parce qu’il voudra 
s'^lever au-dessus de rhumanit6 et il n'est qu'un 
homme.' In spite of which he demanded that men 
should raise themselves above humanity — or lower 
themselves beneath it — by becoming consistently 
Christians. He wanted them to deny their manifold 
being; he demanded that they should impose upon 
themselves a unity — ^his unity. 


§ 15. Unity and Diversity 

Now, it is obvious that men must organize their 
diversity into some kind of singleness. We cannot 
think successfully of the outside world unless we 
have some kind of unifying hypothesis as to its 
nature. (Would it, indeed, be possible to think of 
the external world as being one as well as diverse, if 
we had not previously conceived our own inward 
unity? I doubt it.) If we were without such a 
unifying hypothesis, if we never constrained our- 
selves to act the particular part which we have 
decided is peculiarly ours, social life and purposive 



PASCAL 


217 


action would be impossible. To-day's self would be 
unable to make any engagement for to-morrow's. 
As it is, when Tuesday's ego turns out to be different 
from Monday's, we make an effort to recapture the 
spirit of the earlier self, we loyally do our best (I 
speak at least for the conscientious, of whom un- 
happily I am one) to carry out the programme of 
thought or action elaborated on Monday, however 
repugnant it may seem to the Tuesday personage 
who has to do the carrying out. The task of unifica- 
tion is made easier by the fact that some sort of 
persistent identity does really underlie the diversities 
of personality. A collection of habits (among which, 
if we are good idealists, we must number the body), 
and a number of hereditary tendencies to form 
habits, persist as a gradually changing background 
to the cliversities of personality. The colony of our 
souls is rooted in the stem of a single life. By a pro- 
cess of what Jules de Gaultier has called ‘ Bovarysm ' 
(Mme. Bovary, it will be remembered, was a lady 
who imagined herself other than what she really 
was) we impose upon ourselves a more or less ficti- 
tious personality and do our best consistently to act 
the imaginary part, whatever may be the real state 
of our psychology. The reality is often stronger 
than the imagination; in spite of all our earnest 
efforts to bovaryze ourselves into imaginary unity, 
human life constantly reveals itself as diverse and 
discontinuous, Pascal demands that all men shall 
imagine them.sclves to be ascetic despisers of the 
world; they must bovaryze their diversity into a 
conscious and consistent worship of death. The 
methods by means of which this bovaryzation is to 
be accomplished are the methods perfected through 
long ages of experience by the Catholic church. 
The external man, the machine, in Pascal's phrase. 



2i8 


PASCAL 


must perform the gestures of worship and renuncia- 
tion, imtil a habit is formed, and the bovaric person- 
age of the other-worldly hater of life is firmly estab- 
lished as an actualized imagination in the mind. 

But not every man agrees with Pascal in finding 
life detestable. For those who love it his world- 
view and his way of life are a blasphemy and an 
ingratitude; let them therefore be anathema. What 
are the alternatives to Pascal's scheme? To aban- 
don ourselves completely to our natural diversity? 
Social existence and purposive individual activity 
would be rendered impossible by such an abandon- 
ment. Besides, we have a body, we have habits 
and memories that persist ; we are conscious of being 
enduringly alive. Absolute diversity would be as 
difficult of achievement as absolute unity. The 
problem is obviously to discover just how much 
unifying requires to be done, and to see that it is 
done in the interests of life. A life- worshipping 
personage must be set up in opposition to the Pascalian 
worshipper of death, and the diversities of person- 
ality must be unified, so far as it is necessary to 
unify them, by being bovaryzed into a resemblance 
to this mythical personage. 


§ i6. The Life-Worshipper as Philosopher 

What are the principal features of the life-wor- 
shipper? I shall answer tentatively and only for 
my private personage. In these matters, it is obvious, 
no man has a right to speak for any one except him- 
self and those who happen to resemble him. My 
objection to Pascal is not that he worships death. 
Every man has as good a right to his own particular 
world-view as to his own particular kidneys. Inci- 



PASCAL 


219 


dentally tliere is often, if we may judge from the 
case of Carlyle, of Pascal himself, and how many 
others, a very intimate connection between a man's 
viscera and his philosophy. To argue against 
Carlyle's ' fire-eyed despair ' is futile, because it is 
to argue against Carlyle's digestion. I admit Carlyle's 
despair and Pascal's worslnp of death, just as I 
admit the shape of their noses and their tastes in 
art. What I object to is their claim to dictate lo 
the world at large. I refuse to have death-worship 
imposed on me against my will. And conversely I 
have no desire to impose my particular brand of 
life-worship on any one else. In philosophical dis- 
cussions the Sinaitic manner is ridiculous — as ridicul- 
ous as it would be in gastronomical discussions. It 
is not in terms of ' thus saith the Lord ' that we 
talk, for example, of lobsters. Not now, at any 
rate; for it is worth remembering that Jehovah 
forbade the Chosen People to eat them — ^presumably 
because they divide the hoof but do not chew the 
cud. We admit that every man has a right in these 
matters to Jus own tastes. "I like lobsters; you 
don't. And there's an end of it.' Such is the argu- 
ment of gastronomers. In time, perhaps, philosophers 
will learn to treat one another with the same polite- 
ness and forbearance. True, I myself was impolite 
enough just now to anathematize Pascal's philo- 
sophy; but that was simply because he tried to 
force liis opinions upon me. I can be civil to the 
lovers of semoHna pudding so long as they do not 
want to make me share their peculiar tastes. But 
if they tried to force semolina down my throat, I 
should become extremely rude. 

Briefly, then, these are my notions of the life- 
worshipper into whose likeness I myself should be 
prepared to bovaryze the diversities of my person- 

II 



t220 


PASCAL 


ality. His fundamental assumption is that life on 
this planet is valuable in itself, without any refer- 
ence to hypothetical higher worlds, eternities, future 
existences. ' Is it not better, then, to be alone and 
love Earth only for its earthly sake ? ' It is, par- 
ticularly if you have Blake's gift for seeing eternity 
in a dower and for * making the whole creation 
appear infinite and holy ... by an improvement of 
sensual enjoyment.' The life-worshipper's next as- 
sumption is that the end of life, if we leave out of 
account for the moment all the innumerable ends 
attributed to it by living individuals, is more life, 
that the purpose of living is to live. God, for the 
life-worshipper, is of course life, and manifests him- 
self in all vital processes, even those which, from our 
point of view, are most repulsive and evil. For the 
life-worshipper perceives, with Kant, that if man 
had no anti-social tendencies ' an Arcadian life would 
arise, of perfect harmony and mutual love, such as 
must suffocate and stifle all talents in their very 
germs ' ; and with Lotze that ' our virtue and happi- 
ness can only flourish amid an active conflict with 
wrong.' Following the Hindus, be realizes that per- 
fection is necessarily Nirvana, and that the triumph 
of good would mean the total annihilation of exist- 
ence. A homogeneously perfect life is a contra- 
diction in terms. Without contrast and diversity 
life is inconceivable. Therefore he believes in having 
as much contrast and diversity as he can get; for 
not being a death-worshipper, like the Hindus, he 
will have nothing to do with a perfection that is 
annihilation ; and not being illogical, like the Chris- 
tians, he cannot believe in a perfection that is not a 
Nirvana of non-existence. It is in Blake's Marriage 
of Heaven and Hell that he finds the best statement 
of his own Jife-worshipper's metaphysic. 



PASCAL 


221 


Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and 
Repulsion* Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are neces- 
sary to Man's Existence. 

Man has no Body distinct from hi.s Soul ; for that call'd 
body is a portion of the Soul discern'd by the Senses, the 
chief inlets of spirit in this age. Energy is the only life and 
is from the body. , . . Energy is Eternal Delight. 

God alone Acts or is in existing beings or Men, 


§ 17. The Life-Worshipf>er as Moralist 
Blake is also the life-worshipper's favourite moralist. 

He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence. 

Abstinence sows sand all over 

The ruddy limbs and flaming hair. 

But Dc.sire gratified 

idants fruits of life and beauty there. 

Blake's value as a moralist would be higher if he 
had taken the trouble to explain how his admirable 
precepts could be carried out in practice within the 
bounds of a highly-organized society. The life- 
worshipper completes Blake's teaching by showing 
how this may be done. He suggests a compromise 
which will enable the conscientious citizen of a modern 
industrialized state to be also a complete man, a 
creature witli desires, passions, instincts, a body as 
well as a mind and a conscious will. This compromise 
is based on the recognition and deliberate organization 
of man's natural diversity. The life- worshipper is 
not, like Pascal, a man of principle ; he is a man of 
many principles, living discontinuously. He does not 
select one single being from his colony of souls, call it 
his ' true self/ and try to murder all the other selves. 
Each self, he perceives, has as good a right to exist as 
all the others. Each one, so long as it is " there ' 
in possession of his consciousness, is his true self* 
To those who would object, in the name of the sense of 



222 


PASCAL. 


values, to such a conclusion we can reply with a 
statement of the observable facts. The sense of 
values is something which persists, is an attribute of 
the single life in which the personal diversities are 
rooted. But the values of which we have a sense vary 
with our varying personality; what is good in the 
eyes of one self is bad in the eyes of another self. 
That which is given is the tendency to evaluate ; the 
fixed standard of values is something which we arbi- 
trarily impose on ourselves. We take the values of 
one out of our many personalities and call them 
absolute, and the values of our other personalities 
being different are therefore wrong. The life-wor- 
shipper cannot accept a philosophy and an ethic 
which are not in accord with the facts of experience. 
For him each self has the right to exist, the right to 
its own values. True, he does his best as a matter of 
practical politics to arrange that the appropriate self 
shall be there at the appropriate time. The murder of 
some importunate and momentarily unsuitable soul 
may sometimes be necessary; but he will not be a 
party to PascaLs daily slaughter of innocent selves, 
his chronic and continuous psychological pogroms. 
The life-worshipper's aim is to achieve a vital equili- 
brium, not by drawing in his diversities, not by 
moderating his exuberances (for Exuberance, in the 
words of Blake, is Beauty), but by giving them rein 
one against the other. His is the equilibrium of 
balanced excesses, the safest perhaps of all (is it not 
between the far-projecting extremities of a long pole 
that the tight-rope walker treads his spidery bridge ?). 
Aristotle was also a preacher of moderation. Con- 
tradicting himself (it speaks well for Aristotle that 
he could contradict himself), he also extolled the 
delights of intellectual excess. But it is by his doctrine 
of the golden mean that he is best known as a moralist. 



PASCAL 


225 


As a later philosopher remarked of him, he was 
' moderate to excess/ The life-worshipper's modera- 
tion is excessive in quite a different way. For the 
Aristotelian adorers of tlie mean (how aptly named in 
our ambiguous language I) the last word in human 
wisdom is to do everything by halves, to live in a 
perpetual state of compromise. Not for the life- 
worshipper ; for the life-worshipper knows that 
nothing of any significance has ever been achieved 
by a man of moderation and compromise. Aristotle 
has influenced tlu^ world because he was excessively an 
intellectual, not because he preached and practised 
the Hellenic equivalent of gentlcmanlincss. The con- 
genitally mediorxe adorers of the mean exist to give 
stability to a world which might be easily upset by 
the violent antics of tlie excessive. Filled with divine 
madness, the excessive lay furiously about them; 
the great Leviathan of mediocre humanity presents 
its vast, its almost immovaidy ponderous bottom; 
there is a dull and suety thudding ; tlic boot rebounds. 
Sometimes, when the kicks have been more than usually 
violent and well directed, the monster stirs a little. 
These are the changes which it has been fashionable, 
for the last hundred years or so, to describe as progress, 

§ 18, Balanced Excess 

The world has been moved, I repeat, only by those 
who have lived excessively. But this excc.ssive life 
has been too often, from the point of view of the 
individual human being, a maimed, imperfect life. 
Living excc.ssively only in one direction, the world- 
mover has been reduced from the rank of a complete 
human being to that of an incarnate function. How 
sterile, how terrifyingly inadequate as human existences, 
were the lives, for example, of Newton and Napoleon i 



224 


PASCAL 


Such men go through life without ever actualizing 
the greater number of their human potentialities; 
they keep all but one, or a very few, of their possible 
selves permanently smothered. It may be that such 
sacrifices are necessary and praiseworthy ; it may be 
that the Genius of the Species demands psychological 
holocausts from those whom it has chosen to serve 
its ends. I do not pretend to be in the Genius's 
confidence. All I know is that a man has a perfect 
right to murder such of his personalities as he does not 
like or feel the need of — as good a right as he has, 
shall we say, to cut off his toes. He has no right, how- 
ever, to impose his tastes on others, no right to go 
about saying, like Aunt Jobiska, * that Pebbles are 
happier without their toes.' They aren't. He has 
no right to be a liar or a tyrannical enforcer of liis own 
opinions. Conversely, those who want to live com- 
pletely, realizing the potentialities of the whole man, 
have every right to do so without risk of physical or 
moral bullying from the specialists in one particular 
excess. 

The aim of the life-worshipper is to combine the 
advantages of balanced moderation and excess. The 
moderate Aristotelian partially realizes all his poten- 
tialities; the man of excess fully realizes part of his 
potentialities; the life-worshipper aims at fully 
realizing all — at living, fully and excessively living, 
with every one of his colony of souls. He aspires to 
balance excess of self-consciousness and intelligence 
by an excess of intuition, of instinctive and visceral 
living; to remedy the ili effects of too much con- 
templation by those of too much action, too much 
solitude by too much sociability, too much enjoyment 
by too much asceticism. He will be by turns ex- 
cessively passionate and excessively chaste. (For 
chastity, after all, is the proper, the natural comple- 



PASCAL 


225 


ment of passion. After satisfaction, desire reposes in 
a cool and lucid sleep. Chastity enforced against 
desire is unquiet and life-destroying. No less life- 
destroying are the fulfilments of desires wliich imagina- 
tion has artificially stimulated in the teeth of natural 
indifference. The life-worshipper practises those 
excesses of abstinence and fulfilment which chance 
and his unrestrained, unstirnulated desire impose upon 
him.) He will be at times a positivist and at times a 
mystic ; derisively sceptical and full of faith. He will 
live light-hearted or earnest and, when the sick 
Pascalian mood is tqxin him, correct his frivolities and 
ambitions wiilx the thought of death. In a word, he 
will accept each of his selves, as it appears in his 
consciousness, as his momentarily true self. Each 
and all he will accept — even the bad, even the mean 
and suffering, even the death-worshipping and 
naturally Christian souls. He will accept, iie will live 
the life of each, excessively. 

The saints in the life-worshipper's calendar are 
mostly artists. His ideal of completeness, of modera- 
tion in terms of balanced excess, is realized by such 
men as Burns (about whom the respectable and the 
academic continue to write in the most nauseating 
tone of condescension and Pecksnifiian forgiveness), 
as Mozart, as Blake, as Rubens, as Shakes|>eare, as 
Tolstoy before be deliberately perverted himself to 
death-worshipping consistency, as the adorable 
Chaucer, as Rabelais, as Montaigne. I need not 
lengthen the list* It contains the names of most of 
the few human beings for whom it is possible to feel 
admiration and respect. Those who are not in it are 
specialists in one exclusive excess. One can admire 
and respect a Newton, even a Napoleon. But one 
cannot propose them as models for those who would 
live well and with ail their being. 



2E26 


PASCAL 


There have been whole epochs during which the 
life-worshipper has been, the representative man. 
Our own Renaissance, for example. Looking back, 
the modern historian finds himself utterly bewildered. 
Those brilliant and enigmatic personages who move 
across the Elizabethan scene — ^Essex, Marlowe, Donne, 
Elizabeth herself, Shakespeare, Raleigh, and how many 
others — they seem to him inexplicable beings. How 
is it possible for men to be at once so subtly refined and 
so brutal, so sensual and yet so spiritual, such men 
of action and so much enamoured of contemplation, 
so religious and so cynical? The modern historian, 
who is generally a professor, disapprovingly fails to 
understand. Pledged to a respectable consistency of 
professional thought and conduct, he is frightened by 
the spectacle of human beings who dared to be free, 
to realize all their natural diversity, to be wholly alive. 
Balanced between their inordinate excesses, they 
danced along the knife-edge of existence- We watch 
them enviously. 

To the moralist the life-worshipper's doctrines may 
seem subversively dangerous; and, in effect, the * Do 
what thou wilt ' of Thelema was addressed only to 
' men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and con- 
versant in honest companies.' For the others, 
restraints from without in the shape of policemen, 
from within in the shape of superstitions, will always 
he necessary. The best life-worshippers are probably 
those who have been strictly educated in Christian or 
bourgeois morality, in the philosophy of common- 
sense tempered by religion, and have afterwards 
revolted against their upbringing- Their balancing- 
pole is weighted at opposite ends with the good social 
habits of their education and the anti-social habits of 
their revolt. For the well-born young aspirant to a 
cell in Gargantua's abbey I would recommend the 



I>ASCAL 


S527 

most conventional of gentlemanly and Anglican 
public-school educations, followed, at the university, 
by an intensive course of theoretical Pyrrhonism and 
the practice of all Blake's most subversive precepts. 
The loss of his religious, intellectual, and moral faiths 
might lead him perhaps to neurasthenia or suicide; 
so much the worse for him. But if he were tough 
enough to survive, he could be confidently left to do 
what he liked. His public-school traditions would 
bring him honourably and sensibly through the affairs 
of social life, while his course of Pyrrhonism would 
have taught him to disregard the restraints imposed 
by these traditions on his activities as an individual, 
or colony of individuals. 


§ 19. Unbalanced Excess 

To those who object that it is impossible to obey 
Gargantua's commandment without behaving like a 
pig, ' Speak for yourselves/ is all that one can reply. 
If one is well-born and well-bred one does not behave 
like a pig ; one behaves like a human being. In the 
case, moreover, of a sincere life-worshipper, his 
religion is a guarantee against swinishness. For swin- 
ishness is not a manifestation of life, but a blasphemy 
against it. Thus, swinish gluttony and swinish 
drunkenness are devices for lowering vitality, not 
enliancing it. Swinish promiscuity is not an ex- 
pression of that spontaneous desire which ' plants 
fruits of life and beauty ' in the human personality. 
Your Don Juans love from the head, artificially. 
They use tlieir imagination to stimulate their desire, a 
scif-conscious, unimpassioned, and so unjustified desire 
that humiliates, that diminishes, that " sows sand all 
over ' those who thus call it into action. Swinish 



228 


PASCAL 


avarice and covetousness limit vitality by canalizing 
its flow in a narrow and filthy channel. Cruelty, which 
is occasionally appropriate and necessary and is then 
life-enhancing, is life-limiting and life-destroying 
when it turns into a habitual reaction, when it becomes, 
in a word, swinish cruelty. Indeed, any course of 
behaviour pursued to the exclusion of all the other 
possible courses open to a normally diverse personality 
is obviously, according to our standards, immoral, 
because it limits and distorts the manifestations of 
life. In the eyes of the life-worshipper such exclusive- 
ness is a sin. His doctrine of moderation demands 
that one excess shall be counterbalanced by another. 
To continue on principle or by force of habit in one 
course is to destroy that vital equilibrium whose name 
is virtue, and run into immorality. Pascal, it is 
obvious, was a horribly immoral man. He sinned 
against life by a consistent excess of holiness, in 
precisely the same way as gluttons sin by a cop«iistent 
excess of greed, misers by avarice, and the lewd by 
unremitting lechery. 


§ 20. Life, and the Routine of Living 

It is worth remarking that the revelation of life 
confirms many of the revelations of death The 
business and the distractions which Pascal hated so 
much, because they made men forget that they must 
die, are hateful to the life-worshipper because they 
prevent men from fully living. Death makes these 
distractions seem trivial and siUy ; but equally so does 
life. It was from pain and gradually approaching 

1 I Imve borrowed the phrase from Shestov. L» RMlaiion 
de la Mori is the title, ia its Preach traaslatioa, of oa© of bis 
most interesting books. 



PASCAL 


229 


dissolution that Ivan Ilyitch learned to understand 
the futility of his respectable bourgeois career. If 
he had ever met a genuinely living man, if he had ever 
read a book, or looked at a picture, or heard a piece 
of music by a living artist, he would have learned the 
same lesson. But Pascal and the later Tolstoy would 
not permit the revelation to come from life. Their 
aim was to humiliate men by rolling them in the 
corruption of the grave, to inflict a defiling punishment 
on them ; they condemned, not only the distracting, 
life-destroying futilities with which men fill their 
days, but also the life which those futilities destroyed. 
The life-worshipper agrees with them in hating the 
empty fooleries and sordidnesses of average human 
existence. Incidentally the progress of science and 
industry has enormously increased the element of 
foolery and sordidness in human life. The clerk and 
the taylorized workman leave their imbecile tasks to 
spend their leisure under the influence of such opiate 
distractions as are provided by the newspaper, the 
cinema, the radio; they are given less and less 
opportunity to do any active or creative living of 
their own. Pascal and Tolstoy would have led them 
from silliness to despair by talking to them of death ; 
but ' memento viverc ' is the life-worshipper's advice. 
If people remembered to live, they would abstain 
from occupations which are mere substitutes for life. 
However; most of them don't want to live, just as 
they don't want to die; they are as much afraid of 
living as of dying. They prefer to go on existing 
dimly in the semi-coma of mechanised labour and 
mechanized leisure. Gradually to putrefy is their 
ideal of felicity. If the iife-worship;^r objects, it is 
for his own sake. These people have every right to 
putrefy if they want to putrefy ; but the trouble is, 
that they may infect those who don't wish to putrefy. 



230 


PASCAL 


A plague-pit is not the healthiest place to worship 
life in. 


§ 21. Life and the Future 

When he told his disciples to take no thought for 
the morrow, Jesus was speaking as a worshipper of 
life. To pay too much attention to the future is to 
pay too little to the present — is to pay too little, that 
is to say, to life; for life can only be lived in the 
present. Eternity conceived as existing apart from 
life is life's enemy ; that was why Pascal laid so much 
stress on the eternal and infinite. The only eternity 
known to life is that present eternity of ecstatic lime- 
lessness which is the consummation of intense living. 
Pascal himself reproached men for being ' so im- 
prudent that they wander through times that are not 
theirs and never think of the only time which belongs 
to them.' But, as usual, his principles and his 
physiology would not allow him to practise what his 
intelligence theoretically perceived to be right. He 
saw that it was stupid not to live in the only time 
which belonged to him, but nevertheless persisted in 
thinking of nothing but approaching death and post- 
humous futurity. Strangely enough, he seemed to 
have imagined that his death-worship was true 
Christianity. But ' let the dead bury their dead ' 
was what the founder of the religion had said. Jesus 
had no patience (at that moment, at any rate) with 
the people who imagine that they have something 
better to do than to live. 

Living too much in and for another time than 
the present is the source of other crimes than too 
much holiness. The undue interest in money 
derives from too exclusive and excessive a pre- 
occupation with the future in this life, just as undue 



PASCAL 


231 


interest in death and the means of posthumous 
salvation derives from a preoccupation with the 
future in another life. Death-dealing holiness is 
rare in the contemporary West ; but literally millions 
of men and women pa.ss their time murdering them- 
selves for the sake of their financial position in a 
worldly future, which the threats of wars and revolu- 
tions have rendered so precarious that one is amazed 
that any one in his senses can waste his time in taking 
laborious thought for it. The past is as fatal to life 
as the future. Backward-looking artists who wander 
in times not their own invariably produce bad works : 
too much natural piety towards vanished things and 
people smothers pre.sent vitality in the pious. The 
life-worshipper lives as far as possible in the present — • 
in present time or present eternity. 


§ 22. Habits 

* Two hundred and eighty sovereign goods in 
Montaigne/ I^ascal uses the fact to support his 
argument in favour of the unique, divinely revealed 
Sovereign Good proposed to all men by the Catholic 
Cimreh. ' We burn with desire/ he says, * to find a 
fixed framework of reference, an ultimate and constant 
base/ But we burn in vain. Our unaided efforts 
result in the discovery only of uncertainty and muB 
tiplicity. Therefore, we must accept the divinely 
revealed doctrines of the Church, It is the appeal to 
fatigue and fear expressed in the form of an argument. 
The argument breaks down at several points. To begin 
with, tlicre is no guarantee that the doctrines of the 
Churcli arc of divine origin. And in the second place, 
do w$ (tliat is to say, all men) ' burn with desire ' to 
find a fixed foundation of belief ? All that I know witl^ 



232 


PASCAL 


certainty is that I don’t burn. And when Pascal says, 
' Nous avons nne id^e de la v6rit6 invincible k tout le 
pyxrhonisme/ I can only reply, ' Speak for yourself.* 
The fact is, of course, that these supposedly innate 
ideas and metaphysical desires are the fruit of habit. 
Pascal, as usual, understood it all theoretically, but 
refused to draw the necessary conclusions or to act 
on his own theory. (Was ever so penetrating an 
intelligence wedded to so perverse a will ?) 'I am 
very much afraid,* he wrote, ' that this nature is only 
a first habit, as habit is a second nature.* And again ; 
* Habit is our nature. A man who has grown accus- 
tomed to the Faith believes it and cannot help being 
afraid of hell. . . . Who can doubt, then, that our 
souls, being accustomed to see number, space, move- 
ment, believe in these things and nothing but these 
things ? * * Our natural principles, what are they but 

the principles we have made a habit of? ... A 
different habit would give us different natural prin- 
ciples; and if there are certain natural principles 
which habit cannot efface, there are also anti-natural 
principles of habit which cannot be effaced either by 
nature or by a second habit.' Our most ineffaceable 
habits are those of living in terms of space, time, and 
cause. But even these, as I have suggested earlier in 
this essay, can be shaken. Most of our other * natural 
principles * date from a much later period in the 
mind’s history than do these primeval habits of 
thought. When Pascal says that * we * burn with 
desire to find a fixed foundation of belief, all that he 
means is that he, together with his friends and his 
favourite authors, happens to have been brought up 
in habits of doctrinal fiodty. The desire for fixity is 
not the only metaphysical nostalgia attributed by 
Pascal to humanity. Men long to know the ' mean- 
ing * of events, to be told the ' answer to the riddle of 



PASCAL 


233 


the universe/ Christianity provides such an answer 
and satisfies these ‘ natural ' longings : the fact has 
been regarded by its apologists as a proof of its divine 
origin and absolute truth. That Cixristianity should 
satisfy these longings will not surprise us when we 
realize that it was Christianity which first implanted 
them in the human mind and fixed them there as 
habits. ‘ Christian theology ' (I quote from Bury's 
Idea of Progress) ' constructed a synthesis which 
for the first time attempted to give a definite meaning 
to the whole course of human events, a synthesis 
which represents the past as leading up to a definite 
and desirable goal in the future. Once this belief 
had been generally adopted and prevailed for cen- 
turies, men might discard it along with the doctrine 
of Providence on which it rested, but they could not 
be content to return again to such views as satisfied 
the ancients, for whom human history, apprehended 
as a whole, was a tale of little meaning. They 
must seek for a new synthesis to replace it.' Why 
must they seek for a new synthesis? Because 
Christianity has established in their minds a synthesis- 
habit, because the longing for a synthesis now seems 
" natural/ But the ancients, as Bury shows, were 
quite happy with a history that was from the Chris- 
tian's or the modem philosopher's point of view quite 
meaningless. Their habits were changed and they 
longed for meanings. Another change of habit may 
easily abolish that longing. In any case, however, 
the character of the longing does not affect the nature 
of the meaning that is longed for* We have only to 
observe ourselves and our fellows to discover that the 
universe has no single, pre-established ' meaning ' : 
its riddle is not a conundrum with only one correct 
answer. Meaning is a notion, like sourness or beauty. 



234 


PASCAL 


§ 23. Summary of the Life-Worshipper's Creed 

The life-worshipper* s philosophy is comprehensive. 
As a manifold and discontinuous being, he is in a 
position to accept ail the partial and apparently 
contradictory syntheses constructed by other philoso- 
phers. He is at one moment a positivist and at 
another a mystic : now haunted by the thought of 
death (for the apocalypse of death is one of the 
incidents of living) and now a Dionysian child of 
nature; now a pessimist and now, with a change of 
lover or liver or even the weather, an exuberant 
believer that God's in his heaven and all's right with 
the world. He holds these different beliefs because 
he is many different people. Each belief is the 
rationalization of the prevafling mood of one of these 
persons. There is really no question of any of these 
philosophies being true or false. The psychological 
state called joy is no truer than the psychological 
state called melancholy (it may be more valuable 
as an aid to social or individual living — but that is 
another matter) . Each is a primary fact of experience. 
And since one psychological state cannot be truer 
than another, since all are equally facts, it follows that 
the rationalization of one state cannot be truer than 
the rationalization of another. Wliat Hardy says 
about the universe is no truer than what Meredith 
says ; if the majority of contemporary readers prefer 
the world-view expressed in Tess of the D'Urhervilles 
to the optimism which forms the background to 
Beauchamp* s Career, that is simply because they 
happen to live in a very depressing age and conse- 
quently suffer from a more or less chronic melancholy. 
Hardy seems to them truer than Meredith because 
the philosophy of * Tess ' and " Jude ' is more adequate 
as a rationalization of their own prevailing mood than 



PASCAL 


235 


the phiilosopliy of Richard Feverel or Beauchamp. 
Wiiat applies to optimism and pessimism applies 
equally to other trends of philosophical thought. 
Even the doctrines of * fixed fate, free will, foreknow- 
ledge absolute,' for ail the elaborateness of their form, 
are in substance only expression of emotional and 
physiological states. One feels free or one feels 
conditioned. Both feelings are equally facts of 
experience, so are the facts called ' mystical ecstasy ' 
and * reasonableness.' Only a man whose life was 
rich in mystical experiences could have constructed a 
cosmogony like that of Bochme's ; and the works of 
Voltaire could have been written only by one whose 
life was singularly poor in such experiences. People 
witli strongly marked idiosyncrasies of character 
have their world-view almost forcedupon them by their 
psychology. The only branches of philosophy in 
regard to which it is permissible to talk of truth and 
falsehood are logic and the theory of knowledge. 
For logic and the theory of knowledge are concerned 
with the necessities and the limitations of thought — 
that is to say, with mental habits so primordial that 
it is all but impossible for any human being to break 
them. When a man commits a paralogism or lays 
claim to a more than human knowledge of the nature 
of things, we arc justified in saying that he is wrong, 
I may, for example, admit that all men are mortal 
and that Socrates is a man, but nevertheless feel 
impelled to conclude that Socrates is immortal. Am 
I not as well justified in this opinion as I am in my 
optimism or pessimism, whichever the case may be? 
The answer is : no. I may have a personal taste for 
Socrates's immortality; but, in the syllogistic cir- 
cumstances, the taste is so outrageously bad, so 
universally condemned, that it would be madness to 
try to justify it. Moreover, I should discover that* 



236 PASCAL 

if I put my paralogistic theories into practice, I should 
find myself in serious trouble, not only with other 
human beings, but even with things. The hero of 
Dostoievsky's TJndergrou'nd protests against 

the intolerable tyranny of two and two making four. 
He prefers that they shall make five, and insists that 
he has a right to his preference. And no doubt he 
has a right. But if an express train happens to be 
passing at a distance of two plus two yards, and he 
advances four yards and a half under the impression 
that he will still be eighteen inches on the hither 
side of destruction, this right of his will not save him 
from coming to a violent and bloody conclusion. 

Scientific thought is true or false because science 
deals with sense impressions wliich are, if not identical 
for all human beings, at least sufficiently similar to 
make something like universal agreement possible. 
The difference between a scientific theory and a meta- 
physical world-view is that the first is a rationalization 
of psychological experiences which are more or less 
uniform for all men and for the same man at different 
times, while the second is a rationalization of ex- 
periences which are diverse, occasional, and contra- 
dictory. ' A man may be a pessimistic determinist 
before lunch and an optimistic believer in the will's 
freedom after it ; but both before and after his meaJ 
he will observe that the colour of the sky is blue, that 
stones are hard, that the sun gives light and warmth. 
It is for this reason that there are many philosopMes, 
and only one science. 

But even science demands that its votaries shall 
think, according to circumstances, in a variety of 
difierent ways. The mode of thinking which gives 
valid results when applied to objects of more than a 
certain size (in other words, to large numbers of 
objects; for any tiling big enough to be perceptible 



PASCAL 


237 

to our senses is built up, apparently, of enormous 
numbers of almost infinitesimal components) is found 
to be absolutely inapplicable to single objects of 
atomic or sub-atomic dimensions. About large 
agglomerations of atoms we can think in terms of 
' organized common sense/ But when we come to 
consider individual atoms and their minuter com- 
ponents, common-sense gives results which do not 
square with the observed facts. (Nobody, of course, 
has ever actuzilly observed an atom or an electron; 
but the nature of their behaviour can be inferred, 
with more or less probability, from such happenings 
on a macroscopical scale as accompany their invisible 
activity.) In the sub-atomic world practically all our 
necessities of thought become not only unnecessary 
but misleading, A description of this universe reai 
like a page from Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. 

Seeing, then, that even sense impressions not only 
can but must be rationalized in irreconcilably different 
ways, according to the class of object with which they 
are supposed to be connected, we need not be troubled 
or surprised by the contradictions which we find in 
the rationalization of less uniform psychological 
experiences. Thus, the almost indefinitely numerous 
rationalizations of the aesthetic and the mystical 
experiences not only contradict one another, but 
agree in contradicting those rationalizations of sense 
experience known as scientific theories. This fact 
greatly disturbed our grandfathers, who kept on losing 
their faith, sacrificing their reason, striking attitudes 
of stoical despair, and, in general, performing the 
most extraordinary spiritual antics, because of it. 
Science is 'true/ they argued; therefore art and 
religion, therefore beauty and honour, love and ideals, 
must be ' false/ ' Reality ' has been ' proved ' by 
science to be an affair of space, time, mass, number. 



238 


PASCAL 


and cause ; therefore all that makes life worth living 
is an ‘ illusion/ Or else they started from the other 
end. Art, religion, beauty, love, make life worth 
living ; therefore science, which disregards the 
existence of these things, must be false. It is un- 
necessary for us to take so tragic a view. Science, we 
have come to realize, takes no cognizance of the things 
that make life worth living, for the simple reason that 
beauty, love, and so on, are not measurable quantities, 
and science deals only with what can be measured. 
One psychological fact is as good as another. We 
perceive beauty as immediately as we perceive hard- 
ness; to say that one sensation is illusory and that 
the other corresponds with reality is a gratuitous 
piece of presumption. 

Answers to the riddle of the universe often have a 
logical form and are expressed in such a way that they 
raise questions of epistemology and involve the 
acceptance or rejection of certain scientific theories. 
In substance, however, they are simply rationaliza- 
tions of diverse and equally valid psychological states, 
and are therefore neither true nor false. (Incidentally, 
similar states are not necessarily or invariably ration- 
alized in the same way. Mystical experiences which, 
in Europe, are explained in terms of a personal God 
are interpreted by the Buddhists in terms of an entirely 
godless order of things. Which is the truer rational- 
ization? God, or not-God, whichever the case may 
be, knows.) The life-worshipper who adopts in turn 
all the solutions to the cosmic riddle is committing 
no crime against logic or the truth. He is simply 
admitting the obvious fact that he is a human being — 
that is to say, a series of distinct psychological states, 
a colony of diverse personalities. Each state de- 
mands its appropriate rationalizations; or, in other 
words, each personality has its own philosophies of 



PASCAL 


239 


life. Philosophical consistency had some justification 
so long as it could be imagined that the substance of 
one's world-view (as opposed to the logical trappings 
in which it was clothed and the problems of epistem- 
ology and science connected with it) was uniquely 
true. But if we admit, as I think we must, that one 
world-view cannot be truer than another, but that 
each is the expression in intellectual terms of some 
given and undeniable fact of experience, then con- 
sistency loses all philosophical merit. It is pointless 
to ignore all the occasions when you feel that the world 
is good, for the sake of being consistently a pessimist ; 
it is pointless, for the sake of being consistently a 
positivist, to deny that your body is sometimes 
tenanted by a person who has mystical experiences. 
Pessimism is no truer than optimism, nor positivism 
than mysticism. Philosophically, there is no reason 
why a man should deny the thoughts of all but one 
of his potential scivc.s. Each self on occasion exists ; 
each has its feelings about the universe, its cosmic 
tastes-— or, to put it in a different way, each inhabits 
its own universe. What relation these various 
private universes bear to the Universe in Itself, if 
such a thing exists, it is clearly impossible to say. 
We can believe, if we like, that each of them repre- 
sents one aspect of the whole. ' In my Father's 
house are many mansions.’ Nature has given to 
each individual the key to quite a number of these 
mctapliysical mansions. The life-worshipper suggests 
that man shall make use of all his keys instead of 
throwing all but one of them away. He admits the 
fact of vital diversity and makes the best of it. In 
this he is unlike the general run of thinkers, who are 
very reluctant to admit diversity, and, if they do 
confess the fact, deplore it. They find diversity 
shocking, they desire at all costs to correct it. And 



240 


PASCAL 


even if it came to be universally admitted that no one 
world-view could possibly be true, these people would 
continue, none the less, to hold fast to one to the 
exclusion of all the rest. They would go on worship- 
ping consistency, if not on philosophical, then on 
moral grounds. Or, in other words, they would 
practise and demand consistency through fear of 
inconsistency, through fear of being dangerously free, 
through fear of life. For morality is always the 
product of terror ; its chains and strait-waistcoats are 
fashioned by those who dare not trust others, because 
they dare not trust themselves, to walk in liberty. 
By such poor terror-stricken creatures consistency in 
thought and conduct is prized among the highest 
virtues. In order to achieve this consistency they 
reject as untrue, or as immoral or anti-social (it 
matters not which ; for any stick will serve to beat a 
dog), all the thoughts which do not haimonize with 
the particular system they have elected to defend; 
they do their best to repress all impulses and desires 
which cannot be fitted into their scheme of moral 
behaviour. With what deplorable results I 


§ 24. Pascal, the Deaih-W or shipper 

The consistent thinker, the consistently moral 
man, is either a walking mummy or else, if he has not 
succeeded in stifling all his vitality, a fanatical mono- 
maniac. (By the admirers of consistency the mum- 
mies are called ^ serene ' or ' stoical,' the mono- 
maniacs ' single-minded ' — as though single-minded- 
ness were a virtue in a being to whom bountiful nature 
has given a multiple mind I Single-mindedness is aU 
very well in cows or baboons; in an animal claiming 
to belong to the same species as Shakespeare it is 
simply disgraceful.) 



PASCAL 


241 


In spite of all Ms heroic efforts, Pascal never 
succeeded in entirely suppressing the life that was in 
him. It was not in his power to turn himself into a 
pious automaton. Vitality continued to flow out of 
him, but through only one channel. He became a 
monomaniac, a man with but one aim — to impose the 
death of Christian spirituality on himself and all his 
fellows. * What religion,* he asks, ' will teach us to 
cure pride and concupiscence? * In other words, 
what religion w'ill cure us of living ? For con- 
cupiscence, or desire, is the instrument of life, and 
‘ the pride of the peacock is the glory of God * — not 
of Pascal's God, of course, but of the God of Life. 
Christianity, he concludes, is the only religion which 
will cure men of living. Therefore all men must 
become Christians. I^ascal expended all his extra- 
01 dinary powers in trying, by persuasion, by argu- 
ment, to convert his fellows to consistent death- 
worship. It was with the Provincial LetUrs that he 
opened the campaign. With what consummate 
generalship I Tlie casuists were routed with terrific 
slaughter. Entranced by that marvellous prose, we 
find ourselves even now believing that their defeat 
was merited, that Pascal was in the right. But if 
we stop our ears to the charmer's music and consider 
only tlie substance of what he says, we shall realize 
that the rights were all on the side of the Jesuits and 
that Pascal was using his prodigious talents to make 
the worse appear the better cause. The casuists were 
often silly and pedantic. But their conception of 
morality was, from a life-worshipper's f^int of view, 
entirely sound. Recognizing the diversity of human 
beings, the infinite variety of circumstances, they 
perceived that every case should be considered on its 
own merits. Life was to be tethered, but with an 
elastic rope; it was to be permitted to do a little 



242 


PASCAL 


gambolling. To Pascal this libertarianism seemed 
horrible. There must be no compromise with life; 
the hideous thing must be ruthlessly suppressed. 
Men must be bound down by rigid commandments, 
coffined in categorical imperatives, paralysed by the 
fear of hell and the incessant contemplation of death, 
buried under mounds of prohibitions. He said so 
with such exquisite felicity of phrase and cadence that 
people have gone on imagining, from that day to this, 
that he was upholding a noble cause, when in fact he 
was fighting for the powers of darkness. 

After the Letters came the Penseas — the fragmentary 
materials of what was to have been a colossal work 
of Christian apology. Implacably the fight against 
life continued. * Admiration spoils everything from 
childhood onwards. Oh, isn't he clever 1 Isn’t he 
good 1 The children of the Port Royal school, who 
are not urged on with this spur of envy and glory, 
sink into indifference.’ Pascal must have been 
delighted. A system of education which resulted in 
children sinking into ' la nonchalance ’ was obviously, 
in his eyes, almost ideal. If the children had quietly 
withered up into mummies, it would have been 
absolutely perfect. The man was to be treated to 
the same deadening influences as the child. It was 
first to be demonstrated that he lived in a state of 
hopeless wretchedness. This is a task which Pascal 
undertook with the greatest satisfaction. All his 
remarks on the ' misdre de Thomme ’ are magnificent. 
But what is this misery ? When we examine Pascal's 
arguments we find that man’s misery consists in not 
being something different from a man. In not being 
simple, consistent, without desires, omniscient and 
dead, but on the contrary alive and full of concupi- 
scence, uncertain, inconsistent, multiple. But to 
blame a thing for not being something else is cMldish. 



PASCAL 


243 


Sheep are not men ; but that is no reason for talking 
about the ‘ mis 5 re du mouton/ Let sheep make the 
best of their sheepishness and men of their humanity. 
But Pascal does not want men to make the best of 
their human life; he wants them to make the worst 
of it, to throw it away. After depressing them with 
his remarks about misery, he brings them into 
paralysing contact with death and infinity ; he demon- 
strates the nothingness, in the face of this darkness, 
these immensities, of every thought, action, and 
desire. To clinch the argument he invokes the 
Jansenist God, the Christian revelation. If it is 
man's true nature to be consistent and undesking, 
then (such is Pascal's argument) Jansenistic death- 
worship is a psychological necessity. It is more 
than a psychological necessity; death- worship has 
been made obligatory by the God of Death in person, 
has been decreed in a revelation which Pascal under- 
takes to prove indubitably historical. 

§ 25. Pascal* $ Universe 

The spectacle of so much malignity, so much hatred, 
is profoundly repulsive. Hate begets hate, and it is 
difiicult not to detest Pascal for his venomous detesta- 
tion of everything that is beautiful and noble in 
human existence. It is a detestation, however, which 
must be tempered with pity. If the man sinned 
against the Holy Ghost — and surely few men have 
sinned like Pascal, since few indeed have been 
endowed with Pascal's extraordinary gifts — ^it was 
because he could not help it. 

His desires, in Blake's words, were weak enough 
to be restrained, P'ceble, a sick man, he was afraid 
of life, he dreaded liberty. Acquainted only with the 
mystical states that are associated with malady and 



244 


PASCAL 


deprivation, this ascetic had never experienced those 
other, no less significant, states that accompany the 
fulfilment of desire. For if we admit the significance 
of the mystical rapture, we must equally admit the 
significance of the no less prodigious experiences 
associated with love in all its forms, with the per- 
ception of sensuous beauty, with intoxication, with 
rhythmic movement, with anger, with strife and 
triumph, with all the positive manifestations of 
concupiscent life. In the second section of this 
essay I stated the psychological case for asceticism. 
Ascetic practices produce a condition of abnormality 
and so enable the ascetic to get out of the ordinary 
world into another and, as he feels, more significant 
and important universe. Anger, the feeling inspired 
by sensuous beauty, the orgasm of amorous desire, 
are abnormal states precisely analogous to the state 
of mystical ecstasy, states which permit the angry 
man, the aesthete, the lover, to become temporary 
inhabitants of non-Podsnapian universes which are 
immediately felt (just as the mystic's universe is 
immediately felt) to be of peculiar value and signifi- 
cance. Pascal was acquainted with only one abnormal 
universe— that which the ecstatic mystic briefly 
inhabits. Of all the rest he had no personal know- 
ledge ; his sickly body did not permit of his approach- 
ing them. We condemn easily that wiiich we do not 
know, and with pleasure that which, like the fox who 
said the grapes were sour, we cannot enjoy. 

To a sickly body Pascal joined an extraordinarily 
powerful analytical intellect. Too acute to be taken 
in by the gross illusions of rationalism, too subtle to 
imagine that a home-made abstraction could be a 
realty, he derided the academic philosophers. He 
perceived that the basis of reason is unreasonable; 
first principles come from * the heart/ not from the 



PASCAL 


245 


mind. The discovery would have been of the first 
importance if Pascal had only made it with the right 
organ. But instead of discovering the heart with the 
heart, he discovered it with the head. It was 
abstractly that he rejected abstractions, and with the 
reason that he discovered unreason. His realism was 
only theoretical ; he never lived it. His intelligence 
would not permit him to find satisfaction in the 
noumena and abstractions of rationalist philosophy. 
But for fixed noumena and simple unchanging abstrac- 
tions he none the less longed. He was able to satisfy 
these longings of an invalid philosopher and at the 
same time to salve his intellectual conscience by 
choosing an irrational abstraction to believe in — ^the 
God of Christianity. Marooned on that static Rock 
of Ages, he felt himself safe — safe from the heaving 
flux of appearances, safe from diversity, safe from the 
responsibilities of freedom, safe from life. If he had 
allowed himself to have a heart to understand the 
heart with, if he had possessed a body with which 
to understand the body, and instincts and desires 
capable of interpreting the meaning of instinct and 
desire, Pascal might have been a life-worshipper 
instead of a devotee of death. But illness had 
strangled the life out of his body and made his desires 
so weak that to resist them was an easy virtue. 
Against his heart he struggled with all the force of 
his tense and focussed will. The Moloch of religious 
principle demanded its sacrifice. Obediently, Pascal 
performed the rite of harakiri. Moloch, unsatisfied, 
demanded still more blood. Pascal offered his 
services; he would make other people do as he had 
done. Moloch should be glutted with entrails. AJl 
his writings are persuasive invitations to the world to 
come and commit suicide. It is the triumph of 
principle and consistency. 



246 


PASCAL 


§ 26. Musical Conclusion 

And yet the iife-worshipper is also, in his own 
way, a man of principles and consistency. To live 
intensely — that is his guiding principle. His diversity 
is a sign that he consistently tries to live up to his 
principles ; for the harmony of life — of the single life 
that persists as a gradually changing unity through 
time — is a harmony built up of many elements. The 
unity is mutilated by the suppression of any part of 
the diversity. A fugue has need of all its voices. 
Even in the rich counterpoint of life each separate 
small melody plays its indispensable part. The 
diapason closed fuU in man. In man. But Pascal 
aspired to be more than a man. Among the inter- 
laced melodies of the human counterpoint are love 
songs and anacreontics, marches and savage dancc- 
rhythms, h^ymns of hate and loud hilarious chanties. 
Odious voices in the ears of one who wanted his music 
to be wholly celestial 1 Pascal commanded them to 
be still and they were sdent. Bending towards his 
life, we listen expectantly for a strain of angelic 
singing. But across the centuries what harsh and 
painful sounds come creaking down to us ! 



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P'aith, and Professor Gilbert Mun-ay’s Five Stages of Greek Religion. 

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